The Budget session of Parliament started on Monday morning with President Ram Nath Kovind’s address to a joint session of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The first part of the Budget session will end on February 11, and the second part will be held from March 14 to April 8.

Later on Monday, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tabled the Economic Survey for the fiscal year 2021-’22 in the Lok Sabha. She will present the Union Budget for the next financial year on Tuesday.

In his speech, Kovind congratulated healthcare and frontline workers for their work during the coronavirus pandemic. He also noted that over 90% of adults in India have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and more than 70% of them have received both doses.

“India’s capability in the fight against Covid-19 was proven through the vaccination programme,” Kovind said.

Citing government data, the president said that during the pandemic, 44 crore people got access to the banking system, due to which crores of beneficiaries could get direct cash transfers. Kovind also noted that Goods and Services Tax collections have consistently been more than Rs 1 lakh crore for the past several months.

“Due to the consistent efforts of my government, India has once become one of the fastest-growing economies of the world.”

Ahead of the session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed hope that all political parties will put forward their views with an “open mind” at sittings of the House.

“This session will instill confidence in the world about India’s economic progress, vaccination drive and indigenously-developed vaccines,” he told reporters. “It is true that elections affect sessions as well as discussions...Elections will keep taking place, but the Budget Session will draw a blueprint for the whole year. With a sense of responsibility, we must make this session fruitful.”

The Opposition is expected to target the government on the matters of farm distress and allegations of surveillance by use of the Pegasus spyware, PTI reported.

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of Congress legislature party in the Lok Sabha, has written to Speaker Om Birla seeking to move a privilege motion against the Union government and Information and Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw for allegedly misleading the House in connection with the Pegasus case, PTI reported.

The Congress stepped up its criticism of the government on the Pegasus snooping allegations after a report in The New York Times, which stated that India bought the Israeli spyware in 2017 as part of a $2-billion (approximately Rs 15,000 crore) defence package.

The NSO Group, which has developed Pegasus, has said that the spyware can only be sold to “vetted governments”.

Ahead of the Budget Session, the Congress has also said that it will get in touch with “like-minded parties” to discuss a strategy to raise matters such as farm distress, alleged Chinese intrusions into Indian territory and a relief package for families affected by the coronavirus, according to PTI.

The Budget session will coincide with the Assembly elections in five states. Polls in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa will be held in seven phases from February 10 to March 7. The results will be declared on March 10.

Meanwhile, authorities in Parliament have introduced several measures to prevent Covid-19 infections during the session, the Hindustan Times reported. A limited number of MPs will be asked to occupy their original seats, while some will sit in the gallery and some will sit in the other House, an unidentified official told the newspaper.

The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha will have staggered timings as part of Covid-19 related measures, according to ANI. While the Lower House will function from 4 pm to 9 pm, the Upper House will function from 10 am to 3 pm.

However, on January 31 and February 1, both Houses will start at 11 am.