ISLAMABAD - The Senate Committee on Rules of Procedure on Wednesday ruled out the possibility of summoning virtual session of the Upper House of the Parliament amid COVID-19 outbreak while terming the proposal an unconstitutional step.

The House Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges that met through a video link under the chair of Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq observed that the Constitution didn’t provide for holding a virtual session of the Parliament.

It recommended that Senators could use the galleries of the Senate chamber to follow the health advisories of keeping a minimum distance in the individual seating.  It also proposed that Senate session could be held in the National Assembly chamber in the prevailing conditions to follow the principle of adequate distance in seating.

In relation to the situation arising out of COVID-19, the committee met to discuss, as referred by the Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani, the issue of holding virtual Senate session in light of the Constitution and any other mechanism to be adopted for the same.

The Committee chairperson remarked that the pandemic has engulfed the entire world and Parliamentarians across the world have adopted different ways and means to continue working for the public.

She underscored that Pakistan was also experiencing similar challenges and like the executive and judiciary, Parliament and its members also need to work out mechanisms to convene a session as early as possible to take steps to tackle the pandemic.

Senator Mian Raza Rabbani briefed the meeting on the Constitutional requirements of voting, attendance, quorum and other aspects and said that all couldn’t be observed adequately in a virtual session.

He said that the rules of house also didn’t have any provision for holding a virtual session and for holding such a sitting, a large number of amendments would be required in the constitution as well as the rules.

Former Chairman Senate Rabbani pointed out that all other government departments were working but Parliament couldn’t be convened was beyond comprehension. He proposed that visitors’ galleries could also be used in the chamber for members to ensure proper distance has been maintained between individual sittings.

The State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan told the participants that National Assembly session with limited representation might be called in days to come.

Senator Waleed Iqbal also agreed that virtual session was not a possibility and proposed that Senate session should be convened in the National Assembly chamber and National Assembly session could be convened in the convention centre to have proper sitting arrangement.

He said that everyone coming for meetings or sessions should get himself/herself tested first.

Senators Nighat Mirza, Muzaffar Hussain Shah, Dilawar Khan, Pervaiz Rasheed, and Asif Kirmani also agreed that House sitting should be called and Parliament should continue its work while taking all precautionary measures required.

Leader of the House Senator Syed Shibli Faraz said that a mechanism should be adopted to make it as safe as possible while considering the views of the members.

Senator Sherry Rehman also called for holding the session and keeping the parliament fully functional while also working towards making it more digitized.

The chairperson rounded off the discussion with two proposals; either the session of the Senate should be held in the National Assembly chamber or the visitors galleries of Senate chamber may also be used by the members for seating.