- Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi confirmed this in a letter
- He was responding to Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary
- Mr Chaudhary demanded a session to discuss farm laws amid protests
There will be no winter session of Parliament this time because of the coronavirus outbreak, the government has officially said, ending speculation. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi has said in a letter to the Congress's Lok Sabha leader that all political parties favour scrapping the session to avoid any Covid spread and jumping straight to the Budget session in January. But the Congress says it was never consulted.
Mr Joshi replied yesterday to Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary's letter demanding a session to discuss controversial new farm laws that are at the core of massive farmer protests on highways near Delhi. Mr Chaudhary, the Congress's leader in the Lok Sabha, had stressed on the need to amend the laws, which he said were rammed through parliament by the government.
The minister replied that he had held discussions with leaders of all parties and the consensus was not to call a session due to COVID-19 even though the monsoon session held in September after a long delay due to anti-virus logistics was "one of the most productive sessions with 27 bills passed in 10 continuous sittings". Among those bills were the three farm laws that have sparked the current farmer protests.
"Winter months are very crucial for managing the pandemic because of recent spurt in cases during this period, particularly in Delhi," Mr Joshi wrote to the Congress MP.
"At present, we are in the middle of December and a Covid vaccine is expected very soon. In this regard, I have informally contacted floor leaders of various political parties and they have expressed their concerns about the ongoing pandemic and opined of doing away with Winter Session. The government is willing to have the next session of Parliament at the earliest. It would be appropriate to have the Budget Session, 2021 in January, keeping in mind the unprecedented circumstances created by Covid-19 pandemic (sic)," the letter said, urging Mr Chaudhary, as a "sincere parliamentarian", to cooperate.
Mr Chaudhary said the letter was a giveaway that the government was caught in a mess over the farmer protests. "We wanted to raise the farmers' issues in parliament and wanted a solution. The way the farmers are protesting in the cold is not good for the country's image," the Congress leader told NDTV.
Another senior Congress leader, Jairam Ramesh, tweeted that the government was "departing from the truth" and the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Congress member Ghulam Nabi Azad, had not been consulted.
The constitution says that parliament must meet within six months. The Budget session is likely in the last week of January ahead of the budget announcement on February 1.
Several Congress leaders had asked for a session at the earliest, with precautions in place, saying it was critical to discuss various concerns before the country, including the farmer protests, the economy and the China row.
In September, the monsoon session was cut short after many MPs contracted Covid.
Seventeen members of the Lok Sabha and eight from the Rajya Sabha had tested positive in tests carried out before the session started.
Many MPs who had tested negative initially were infected during the session. According to ministers, the infection spread despite measures like social distancing, separate shifts and regular RT-PCR tests.
Around 200 of the 785 parliamentarians are above 65 and so, more vulnerable to the coronavirus.