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The speculation over a delayed start to the winter session of Parliament could hold up the 15th Finance Commission (FFC) report, scheduled to be tabled in the Lok Sabha to help states understand their share in the devolution of central funds for the next five years.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is still considering if the winter session could be held amid the surge in covid-19 cases in Delhi and a final decision would be taken at the meeting of the cabinet committee on parliamentary affairs (CCPA), according to people aware of the development.

“The problem is the tabling of the FFC report in Parliament. The report has already been given to President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, but until it is tabled in Parliament, state governments will not know about the devolution of funds to them and to different central ministries," said senior MP Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

The possibility that the winter session may be cancelled could also allow opposition parties to corner the Centre. Opposition parties are keen to have a detailed discussion on covid and seek a detailed roadmap of the adult vaccination programme that would have to be undertaken by the central and state governments.

“A delay in the tabling of the FFC report also means states will not be able to plan their budget session as they will not know about their share in the central funds. States will also not be able to know about the share of funds they get from different central ministries for various programmes in the states," said Mahtab.

The winter session could also be a truncated one, but the decision would be taken by the Union government in consultation with the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha chairman, said people aware of the developments.

“This is only speculation. The final decision about the winter session will be taken by the CCPA. The decision will be conveyed to all stakeholders," said a senior Union cabinet minister, seeking anonymity.

Most opposition parties are of the view that the session should be held even if it is truncated, so that crucial issues can be discussed. “The tabling of the FFC report cannot wait. There should be a truncated winter session if the authorities are finding it difficult to organize a month-long session. The report cannot wait till January-end or February so that the Centre can have a longer Budget session," said another person, also requesting anonymity.

This uncertainty over the winter session of Parliament, which usually begins in late November, continued even as the national capital saw a spike in covid-19 cases. As on Sunday, Delhi reported 6,746 new cases and 121 deaths. Earlier in the year, too, both the budget session and the monsoon sessions of Parliament were affected by the pandemic and were cut short.

“Holding the winter session as per its original schedule looks unlikely at this stage. Delhi has seen a high number of cases and even for parliamentary committee meetings, attendance is very low. One of the possibilities is a session beginning in January-end, which could be clubbed with the Budget session, but there is no clarity as of now," a senior Parliament official said requesting anonymity.

Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, when asked about the issue on Saturday, had said that the secretariat was prepared to hold the winter session, but the dates are decided by the Union government.

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