New Delhi At least 29 members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha tested positive for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the run-up to Parliament’s first session in almost six months, according to officials aware of the matter, casting a shadow over the opening day of the monsoon session of the country’s highest legislative body.
Twenty-one of the MPs belong to the Lower House and the remaining eight belong to the Upper House, the people said, requesting anonymity. Most of them tested positive on September 13, the eve of the start of the session which will convene on all days until October 1.
According to officials, at least 17 of the lawmakers belong to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and three to the Congress. The list includes minister of state for railways Suresh Angadi and two BJP MPs from Delhi, Meenakshi Lekhi and Pravesh Verma. All three posted tweets confirming that they tested positive.
The monsoon session started on Monday, spread over different shifts in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, with staggered seating arrangements and strict health rules in place in the wake of the pandemic. Three-hundred-and-fifty-nine Lok Sabha MPs attended the first day of the session andaround 180 MPs were present in the Upper House on Monday, according to official figures. Ministers are not required to mark their attendance.
Apart from the Covid results, it was a busy day for both Houses.
The Lok Sabha passed two bills (National Commission for Homoeopathy Bill and the National Commission for Indian System of Medicine Bill ); introduced eight more, and tabled the supplementary demand for grants.The Rajya Sabha saw the introduction of five bills.
The Upper House also re-elected Harivansh of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as the deputy chairman.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who spoke to the media before the session began, noted that Parliament’s monsoon session is being held in an extraordinary manner, with social distancing measures and with the two Houses conducting business in shifts. He also urged MPs to “send a message to the soldiers that the whole country is with them”, remarks that came against the backdrop of tensions at the border in eastern Ladakh, where the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are locked in a stand-off.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh will make a statement on the India-China conflict in Parliament on Tuesday.
With a total of 770 seats across the two Houses, India has the world’s fourth-largest Parliament by number of lawmakers after the UK, Italy and France. As a part of the massive preparations to keep the Parliament estate free of Covid-19, Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla announced two weeks ago that all MPs, officials and journalists covering Parliament would have to test for the disease before coming to the House.
The Rajya Sabha also declared a similar policy. At least 2,000 people were tested in the run-up to the session, officials said.
Besides the 29 MPs, around 70 officials tested positive, increasing the burden on the Parliament secretariat in running the session.
The positive results came as a temporary setback for the session that has been delayed by at least two months because of the sweeping pandemic. While these 29 MPs are almost ruled out for the session, many senior MPs have already decided to skip it due to the pandemic. Union home minister Amit Shah, who has recovered from the viral infection, is currently in All India Institute of Medical Sciences for routine check-up.
New Delhi Municipal Council officials were involved in conducting the tests along with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).The apex medical research body tweeted on Monday, “ICMR is honoured to have carried out testing of 2500+ samples of Hon’ble Members of Parliament and other officials on war footing over the weekend in service of the nation.”
Minister of state for railways Angadi announced that he had tested Covid19-positive and that he was doing fine. “Taking the advice of doctors. Requesting all those who have come in close contact with me in the last few days to monitor their health and get tested in case of any symptoms,” he tweeted.
BJP’s Rita Bahuguna Joshi; another Uttar Pradesh MP of the BJP, Kaushal Kishore; and Congress lawmaker A Chellakumar have informed the Parliament secretariat that they tested positive. On August 28, the sitting MP of Kanyakumari, Congressman H Vasanthakumar, succumbed to Covid-19.
On September 6, Congress’ s Rajya Sabha MP, Deepender Singh Hooda, declared that he tested positive for the infection. Trinamool’s Rajya Sabha member, Shanta Chhetri, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Rajya Sabha floor leader, A Navaneethakrishnan, informed the Rajya Sabha secretariat abouttheir positive status.
Apart from these leaders, a Shiv Sena MP, one lawmaker each from the Aam Aadmi Party and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and two YSR Congress MPs too tested positive.
“It is a constitutional requirement that the House has to meet. This is an unusual situation and no one can blame the secretariat for not doing enough. Of course, the absence of active members is always a loss, but we can’t apply general logic as things are really not in anybody’s control,” P Sreedharan, a former secretary general of the Lok Sabha, said.