NEW DELHI: With social distancing norms in mind, the next session of Parliament, expected to be convened in July, may see Lok Sabha vacating its chamber for Rajya Sabha and moving its proceedings to the Central Hall.
The proposed shift, which will help spread out sitting arrangements, is likely to be effected ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament. With a sitting capacity of approximately 800, Central Hall can accommodate the 543 members of Lok Sabha while ensuring adherence to physical distancing norms. The same purpose is proposed to be achieved by shifting the sitting of Rajya Sabha to the much bigger chamber of the lower House.
The move was discussed in a meeting on Monday between Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Speaker Om Birla. The two presiding officers also discussed the possibility, in the long term, of holding virtual sessions of Parliament, allowing MPs to participate in the proceedings from wherever they are.
BJD leader Bhartruhari Mahtab recently wrote to Birla citing a list of 23 nations where parliaments and parliamentary committees were holding virtual meetings despite the Covid-19 lockdown and demanded that the Speaker frame guidelines to undo confidentiality clauses that were cited to disallow House committee meetings in India since the lockdown.
In a detailed discussion on the subject, Birla and Naidu acknowledged that the fight against coronavirus would be a long one, and plans needed to be drawn up to explore the possibility of holding virtual sessions with the help of modern technological tools.
Unlike sittings of parliamentary standing committees where confidentiality is crucial, Naidu and Birla noted that there was no requirement of maintaining confidentiality of the proceedings of both the Houses, which are telecast live.
Sources said the options being considered are holding the meeting of Lok Sabha in Central Hall and shifting Rajya Sabha to the Lok Sabha chamber. The plans underfoot are also taking into consideration holding the sittings of both Houses on alternate days.
Sources said Naidu and Birla have also, for now, decided to refer the issue of virtual meetings of parliamentary committees to the rules committees of both Houses. It was also acknowledged that while presiding officers of the Houses could suspend rules, such suspensions would require endorsements by the two Houses.
Chairmen of various committees of Parliament, including department-related standing committees, had urged the presiding officers to grant permission to hold virtual meetings in light of travel restrictions due to the lockdown.
Regarding standing committee meetings, Naidu and Birla suggested that the chairmen of various committees were empowered to convene regular meetings. They suggested that chairmen of various committees should convene meetings after ascertaining whether MPs would be able to attend. Some MPs have expressed inability to travel on account of quarantine norms in various states. Attendance in meetings of the eight department-related standing committees of Rajya Sabha has averaged around 45% over the last three years. In other words, only 14 of the 31 members of each committee have been attending such meetings.
As some newly-elected members of Rajya Sabha have conveyed to Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu about difficulties involved in travelling to Delhi due to quarantine norms, Naidu has deferred administering oath to the 37 members elected unopposed. Sources said the same will be considered later.

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