Mumbai: The Maharashtra assembly is supposed to hold a session this Monday and Tuesday, at a time when the entire state, and Mumbai in particular, are struggling to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Maharashtra has recorded 8,43,844 Covid-positive cases as of Friday, accounting for over a fifth of India’s total caseload. The state has 2,05,428 active cases. Mumbai, too, has been a Covid hotspot, with a total of 1,50,095 cases, of which 21,442 are active as of Friday.
With over 1,000 people, including MLAs, their secretaries, drivers, civil servants, government employees and police personnel expected to frequent the legislature at Vidhan Bhavan, several MLAs are going the extra mile to take precautions.
Plans for own kadhas and dry tiffin
Raju Awale, the Congress MLA from Hatkanangale, a small town in Kolhapur district, has procured a full PPE kit. He has also called up his friend who lives in Colaba in south Mumbai, saying he will have to stay there for a couple of days.
“I usually stay at the Aamdar Nivas (MLA hostel). This time, as a precautionary measure, I have decided to stay at my friend’s house. I will travel to Mumbai in full PPE gear and also attend the session in PPE,” Awale told ThePrint.
Narayan Kuche, a BJP legislator from Badnapur in Jalna district, however, plans to stay at the MLA hostel itself.
“But I called the Aamdar Nivas in advance and asked them to thoroughly sanitise my room. This time, I will limit my visits in Mumbai only to Vidhan Bhavan and nowhere else. I plan to stay put in my room when I am not in the assembly,” Kuche said, referring to legislators’ usual practice of lingering in the Vidhan Bhavan lobby and the MLA canteen, catching up with others or mediapersons.
Kuche also plans to carry his own ‘dashmi roti’, a Maharashtrian speciality made of whole wheat dough, besan and spices, to take care of his meal requirements while in Mumbai.
“The only unfortunate part is that all this is literally for nothing. We won’t be able to discuss the more serious issues of farmers suffering losses, flood-ravaged districts and the strain on the economy in a two-day token session,” Kuche said.
Nationalist Congress Party’s Saroj Ahir, who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus with mild symptoms in June, has been having home-made kadha (herbal drink) every day, and plans to follow this routine in Mumbai too.
“I plan to carry an electric water heater and a flask so that I can continue making my own kadha in Mumbai and even keep sipping it during the session from my flask,” Ahir said.
Shiv Sena MLA Pratap Sarnaik, who represents the Ovala-Majiwada constituency in Thane district, said he usually hosts meals for at least 50 people during assembly sessions.
“This time, hosting meals and catching up with people is out of question. I am not even planning to carry my own meals,” Sarnaik said. “This session is mostly for procedural reasons. I don’t think the attendance is going to be even 50 percent.”
Covid tests for MLAs, tents for secretaries
The state assembly’s monsoon session was originally scheduled to begin on 22 June, but was pushed to 3 August due to the Covid crisis. It was later postponed once again to 7 September and cut to two days instead of the usual three weeks.
The government decided to go ahead with the session despite the climbing Covid numbers since procedure dictates that an assembly session needs to be convened within six months of the previous one.
The government said in a statement last month that the business advisory council has decided that all legislators will be required to undergo an RT-PCR test on 6 September, and only those with a negative report will be allowed to attend the session. Legislators can either get the test done in Mumbai or in their respective constituencies.
To avoid crowding, MLAs’ secretaries will not be permitted to enter the Vidhan Bhavan building. Instead, the state government will set up a tent outside for drivers and secretaries to sit.
The entire premises would be sanitised, and some legislators will be made to sit in the viewers’ gallery and students’ gallery to maintain social distancing norms inside the House.
The state government also plans to give safety kits to all MLAs before entering the house.
But several legislators don’t want to take a chance.
“Let them give what they want, but I plan to use my own mask, face shield and sanitiser. Who wants to take a chance?” Manisha Chaudhary, BJP MLA from Mumbai’s Dahisar constituency, said.