Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani’s request to National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser to allocate NA hall for Senate session has not gone down well with the federal government which is reluctant to convene Senate session in the backdrop of the alarming spread of coronavirus in Pakistan.

The treasury benches have conveyed to the chairman Senate to review his letter to the speaker NA, Business Recorder has learnt.

On the other hand, the senators, from the opposition in particular, are siding with the chairman Senate, and have dismissed the option of a virtual session of the Senate.

In this context, the meeting of Senate Standing Committee on Rules of Procedures and Privileges presided over by its Chairperson Ayesha Raza Farooq from Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) declared that there is no provision of holding the virtual session of the Senate in the constitution and discussed the option to “utilise the galleries for the senators to create space for social distance for Senate session.”

Speaking at the meeting, the committee chairperson said, “In these testing times when coronavirus has unleashed devastation worldwide, the parliaments of different countries are working to save people from this pandemic. In a situation like this, we, the parliamentarians cannot sit in homes and wait for this crisis to be over,” she said.

Independent senator Dilawar Khan, who is part of treasury benches, supported the virtual session, saying it would help ensure social distancing keeping in view the WHO (World Health Organisation’s) guidelines.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said that Parliamentary Committee on Coronavirus Monitoring led by Speaker NA has already decided to hold an NA session that will have minimum agenda, minimum participation of lawmakers and lack of quorum would not be pointed during the session.

Leader of the House in Senate Shibli Faraz said, a mechanism needs to be adopted to focus on staying safe from the pandemic through mutual consensus

However, former chairman Senate Raza Rabbani from Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) strongly opposed the possibility of virtual session saying there is no constitutional provision in this regard.

Senator Waleed Iqbal from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) floated the suggestion that “Senate session should be held in NA hall and NA session should be held at Convention Centre.”

Requesting anonymity, a senator from treasury benches told Business Recorder that the federal government had conveyed to the chairman Senate that holding Senate session is not possible for at least a fortnight keeping in view the serious challenges posed by coronavirus with the mortality rate and the number of infected patients rapidly increasing across Pakistan including Islamabad.

“But it seems that the chairman Senate gave in to the pressure from opposition senators to hold Senate session in disregard of ground realities. The parliamentarians need to realise that dealing with coronavirus is a matter that strictly falls in the domain of the Executive, not Legislature. At this crucial hour, we need to stop playing politics,” the insider said.

However, the source said that the federal government would honour any decision collectively taken by the parliamentarians.

The source admitted that there is no provision for holding virtual session of the Senate but said that virtual session can be held if chairman Senate issues a ruling in its favour keeping in view the extraordinary circumstances.

Earlier on Monday, chairman Senate wrote a letter to the NA requesting him to “make the chamber of the NA available for sitting of the Senate to assume its constitutional role while taking all precautionary measures in view of the health advisories.”

In the letter, Sanjrani mentioned that parliamentary practices exist wherein the chamber of Senate was used by National Assembly of Pakistan for holding the sessions when fire eruption destroyed the NA chamber in 1993.

However, the speaker NA has not yet responded to the letter (till the filing of this report on Wednesday night).

Published in Business Recorder