Dozens of journalists who covered Parliamentary proceedings from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Press Galleries over decades, will not be able to do so in Parliament’s Monsoon Session.
This would have been their last chance to enter the historic Galleries, as Parliament moves to its new building from the next session. Parliament authorities have announced that Covid-19 protocols on social distancing and safety will continue in the coming session.
These protocols have been in operation for two years because of the pandemic. The restrictions virtually drove out journalists from Parliament House precincts for two continuous years, and only a few television teams could cover limited events.
In spite of some relaxation later, entry to the Press Galleries has remained restricted. The Covid-19 rules require social distancing between correspondents occupying seats in the Galleries. They have to be duly vaccinated.
The most important regulation is the system of lottery by which the correspondents will get their chance to cover the proceedings. The results of these lotteries are announced in advance for the sittings and different news establishments learn thereby when their turn might come.
This means that a large number of correspondents who hold permanent annual passes for the Galleries may not be allowed entry into the Galleries. The Lok Sabha gallery has about 123 seats for the Press and the Rajya Sabha Gallery 78. Only half of these may be available for use.
The Central Hall public galleries have a sizable chunk of their 350 seats reserved for the press. The Central Hall galleries are used by the press to cover occasions like the coming farewell speech of retiring President Ram Nath Kovind on 23 July.
The lotteries for the Parliamentary session do not allow entry for each and every accredited correspondent from a news entity, which debars the possibility of teamwork by the correspondents.
The passes earlier given for Sessional duration will remain suspended. Most correspondents would have to remain content with watching Parliamentary proceedings on Sansad Television channels for the two Houses.
Denied the opportunity to cover Parliament in person, the correspondents would be left with only memories of the Parliament House, a place which was not just a work venue for them, but like a second “home,” where they sometimes spent their entire days, sitting in the Galleries till late hours in the night.
The correspondents often recall how they spent their days sitting in the Galleries through Question Hours and debates and waited in corridors or in libraries for proceedings to resume after adjournments. For years, they queued up daily to receive their copies of Question-Answer volumes and Parliamentary reports laid on the Table of the two Houses.
The correspondents never get tired of recalling the days when they had to struggle physically to get their copies of Budget documents or the Economic Survey each year.
The onset of paperless sessions ended at least this part of the drudgery for the correspondents, although the change was not welcomed by the older generation. For a few years, “enterprising” correspondents still managed to secure Budget documents in hard copy with some effort.
A regular part of the Parliamentary routine for journalists was tea breaks at the tea trolley in a corridor close to the Press rooms. For some years, though, this facility was shared liberally by the public visiting Parliament for short durations on visitors’ passes. The lunch rooms where one could have food with some comfort on ancient round tables till the Eighties, slowly converted to self-service halls.
The result was chaotic scenes as visitors and security personnel joined the media in food queues in large numbers. But the routine was still enjoyed, although Parliamentary canteens struggled to meet the rising food demand. Correspondents covering political parties remember their press conferences where the parties clarified their policies and answered queries. The parties’ comments on the Parliamentary proceedings too helped in the Parliamentary coverage.