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Monsoon session of Indian Parliament- May our MPs be allowed to work from home!

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The monsoon session of Indian Parliament usually begins in the month of July. The importance of the upcoming session will be extraordinary as it comes in the shadow of the great pandemic. Tackling of the pandemic is still a ‘work in process’. Unfortunately, however, some political parties in the opposition space have started politicizing the disaster. That dangerous tendency must stop and the nation meet the challenge as one solid body. The coming session holds key for that.

Six Lessons of Covid-19

By now the pandemic has exposed few serious shortcomings in the manner the country countered the corona challenge. We mention six of them.

First, the inadequacy of the public health infrastructure.

Second, chinks in the rationing system. This reveals from the fact that despite the Centre assuring free food grains to 80 crore poor Indians for 3 months, there have been countless reports of agencies and parties providing ‘reliefs’ to lakhs. In few states ruling parties are reportedly using ration as political tools against their opposition. These suggest sections of poor yet remain excluded from the system.

Third, the handling of the issue of migratory workers was poor. Lack of coordination between the Centre and the States was conspicuous.

Fourth, this pandemic has exposed how the sheer size of population made the country vulnerable. Not only it placed an unsustainable pressure on the public health facilities, but also left none in doubt that enforcing measures such as ‘social distancing norm’ is an impossibility in several high population density areas like Dharavi in Mumbai, slums in Kolkata, etc.

Fifth, it also transpired that while vast majority underwent intense sufferings due to lockdown, some groups of people driven by religious fanaticism wantonly violated the norms thereby spreading the corona infections across the country. But the governments seemed lacking in will to make these violators behave.

Sixth, this pandemic made the country view with horror as to how helplessly it depends on a very few countries, especially China, for its bulk drug needs and how, should the latter stop export, its famed pharmaceutical industry may crash posing grave health risks for crores of its people!

Only SOP can save India from complete Lockdown regime

As indicated already, the present pandemic has not yet run its full course. To add to it, one must reckon that the episode of pandemic will not likely end with Covid-19. The experience of first two decades of the present century says that several pandemics like Ebola, H5N1, SAARS, Mers-Cov, A(H7N9), Nipah and Zika to name some,  have already hit the world- on average once in every two years. The lesson is we must prepare for more challenges. Can we yet again declare countrywide lock down when the next pandemic knocks at the door? The answer is an emphatic ‘No’. India must, on the basis of the experience of Covid-19, formulate a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to put into use in future.

The nearly three months of lockdown has made most people exasperated. The nation is desperate to get relief now and avoid similar predicament in future. The key to their emancipation is in the hands of parliament. Not only must the mistakes done during Covid-19 be addressed, a template by way of SOP to deal with future challenges is equally necessary. It is in this context the country will watch with avid interest to the upcoming parliament session.

Two categories of challenges

The tasks on hand for the coming session can be grouped under two categories in terms of complexities. The first category will be easier to accomplish. For example, introduction of ‘one nation, one ration card system’ to bring every Indian within the rationing system, building up additional hospitals across the country, start diversifying sources of import of bulk drugs. The second category is political in nature but calls for urgent action. For example, population policy. This pandemic has demonstrated that it is simply impossible to tackle grave contagious pandemic with the present level of population density. Second, the nation has realized that how measures such as NPR could have helped in giving food, shelter and financial assistance to the needy in a well targeted manner. Third, the unreasonable behavior of some population groups driven by misplaced religious fundamentalism has brought the focus back on the imperative of a Uniform Civil Code, so that people across caste and creed can stand together shoulder to shoulder to meet national challenges such as the pandemic.  

Clearly political consensus is need of the hour.  The political parties must rise above party politics and work together to build national consensus. The people of India will watch with keenest interest like never before the proceedings of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to understand how parties and individual members contribute to address the challenges- immediate and long term, apparent and deep.

Can parliament embrace technology?

There is no communication as yet in the public domain about how the two houses will sit in Delhi. The capital city is in the tight grip of the pandemic. In the last session, there were murmur by some members about the risk of corona infection. Clearly, the health of nearly 800 MPsof both houses are matters of high priority and cannot be compromised. At the same time, it is of supreme importance that they meet and chalk out a road map for the nation in times of such grave crisis.

Benefits of video conferencing

The solution is straightforward. The upcoming session may be held through video- conference extensively supported by technology. Though the usual heat and light that arise due to physical assembly of the members will be missed, this new mode of participation has numerous benefits. To start with, it removes the health concerns of members and reaches them the convenience of taking part in the deliberations from their convenient locations.

The other significant benefits will be: a) every member of parliament will have the benefit of expressing before the house and the nation his or her full views on a given issue to complete satisfaction without the fear of being obstructed and heckled; b) the entire proceedings will be free from disturbances such as slogan shouting, rushing to well, walkout, tearing papers, and even scuffling at times; c) the constituency of a member can make an objective assessment about the quality of participation of its representative; d) huge cost cutting which is bound to be welcome in the crisis situation.

Need for good homework

Should the government decide in favour of the proposition, it must think in advance in terms of legalities and constitutional provisions. For example, if such an arrangement requires approvals of both houses, the latter can be summoned for a day or two for that purpose and then the new system can take over enabling members to return.

There may be some challenges as well to put forth the entire course of proceedings on this technology backbone. To get a satisfactory outcome the parliamentary staff, deputy speakers and speakers may have to spend some time with the technology company. Most importantly the technology provision with regard to mode of passing of bills in a fool proof manner must be above reproach. Doing all these will take some time. If the government is serious the preparations must begin immediately.

Can technology break shackles and emancipate the nation?

The whole country wants the two houses decisively address the key issues so that India can come out of the present pandemic, convert the crisis as an opportunity to build strong infrastructure for public health and rejuvenate the economy.

In the event the government decides in favour of using the technology of video conferencing, the chances of a fruitful, constructive, and healthy deliberations on a whole range of critically important issues which were repeatedly getting obstructed in the precincts of parliament houses can be expected. From long range perspectives, this may be a very substantial gain.

It remains to be seen if the ruling regime gives a serious thought to it!

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