New Delhi: The monsoon session of Parliament concluded on Wednesday, eight days ahead of schedule, due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus disease among members. The session, which started on September 14 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was otherwise scheduled to conclude on October 1.
In a first in Indian parliamentary history, some members of the Lok Sabha were also seated in the Rajya Sabha chamber and visitor galleries to ensure social distancing. The Rajya Sabha also followed similar practice with its members seated in the Lower House. During this session, while the Rajya Sabha met in the first half of the day, the Lok Sabha assembled at 3 pm.
Members wore masks and face shields in both Houses. In Lok Sabha, fibreglass shields were placed in front of benches and on either side of the seats to prevent the spread of the virus. The members were not allowed to speak while standing. Many MPs including some ministers had tested positive for COVID-19.
Besides the legislative business, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement on the India-China standoff in east Ladakh in both the Houses was a key highlight of the brief session. He asserted that no force in the world can stop Indian troops from patrolling the country’s border in the Ladakh region.
In perhaps one of its shortest sessions, Parliament passed key bills related to agriculture and labour reforms. Rajya Sabha witnessed bedlam during the passage of two farm sector-related bills. Eight opposition members of the Upper House were suspended for “unruly behaviour” following the ruckus.
Most opposition parties boycotted Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha proceedings to protest the suspensions. In the Lok Sabha, several opposition members were not present when the House was adjourned sine die in the evening. In his concluding remarks, Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said it is “extremely unpalatable” when bills are passed amid a boycott of proceedings by some sections of the House, but not taking up legislative work in such a situation may legitimise their action as an “instrument of blocking legislation”.
Rajya Sabha passed 15 bills in the last two sittings with opposition parties boycotting the proceedings to protest the suspensions. “Though it is not the first time that some members are suspended and bills are passed when some sections of the House boycott the proceedings, I find it extremely unpalatable.
“This kind of situation needs to be avoided by all means,” Naidu said in his remarks on the conclusion of the 252nd session of the Rajya Sabha. Expressing concern over the conduct of some of the members, he said it was “deeply painful” and all need to “collectively ponder” over these issues.
On the suspension on the eight members, Naidu said rules of the House provide for such action when it becomes inevitable. “If legislative work is not taken up during the boycott by some sections of the House, it may legitimise such boycott as an effective instrument of blocking legislation,” he said.
In his concluding remarks before adjourning the House, Speaker Om Birla said the productivity of the session was a record high.
The productivity of the House was 167 per cent, which was much higher than the past session, he said while thanking all the members. During the 10 working days of the session including Saturday and Sunday, a total of 25 bills were passed, he said, adding, some of the important bills included those related to agriculture reforms and the labour sector.
Besides, the House also passed the first batch of Supplementary Demands for Grants empowering the government for additional spending of Rs 2.35 lakh crore, the highest ever so far. During the session, the House transacted 68 per cent legislative business and the remaining 32 per cent non-legislative business including discussions.
The House also took up a discussion on the coronavirus pandemic, which continued for over five hours, Birla observed. During the session, private members’ business which is usually taken up on Friday evenings was done away within both the Houses to save time.
During private members’ business, Bills brought by individual members are introduced and debated. The session also saw the two Houses doing away with the Question Hour in which members ask supplementary questions from the government. However, written replies were tabled.