A year later, same stand: no virtual meetings of House panels

Rules were not amended as physical meetings resumed, when it was believed pandemic was on the decline

May 14, 2021 07:57 pm | Updated 08:00 pm IST - New Delhi

A view of the Parliament House Building in New Delhi. File

A view of the Parliament House Building in New Delhi. File

The parliamentary panels cannot meet virtually till the necessary rules are amended by both Houses of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha secretariat said in reply to a letter written by Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge on Friday.

The standing committees of Parliament , which are non-partisan platforms to analyse the functioning of the government, have not met since the onset of the second wave of the pandemic .

More than a year after the demands were first raised by the panels’ chairpersons, the necessary changes in the rules have not been amended since their physical meetings were held for a few months when it was believed that COVID-19 was on the wane.

Last week, in a letter to Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu, Mr. Kharge said that Parliament could not be a mute spectator to the suffering of people. He urged Mr. Naidu to allow online meetings of the panels.

Naidu, Birla meetings

Mr. Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla last year held a series of meetings where it was argued that the “confidentiality clause” dictated that only physical meetings of the panels can be held, keeping the proceedings and deliberations secret.

It was decided that the issue be referred to the committee on Rules in both the Houses. “As physical meetings of the committees were being held regularly, following the guidelines strictly, the matter rested there and the situation had not arisen for considering the matter by the Rules Committees in both the Houses,” the letter stated.

The Rajya Sabha secretariat assured Mr. Kharge that the meetings of the committees would be considered “shortly once the situation improves for better”.

It was informed that the issue of “confidentiality can be resolved during the session as any amendment to the rules can be approved by the respective Houses only after the matter is considered by the Rules Committee.”

Senior Congress leader and chairman of the committee on Home Affairs Anand Sharma who, on Tuesday, wrote to Mr. Naidu making the same demand, said: “In a democracy, accountability can neither be delayed nor evaded.”

His colleague and chairman of the panel on Science and Technology Jairam Ramesh wrote on Twitter that nowhere in the world had Parliament run away from its duties like in India. “In spite of repeated requests for almost a year, virtual meetings of Standing Committees have been inexplicably disallowed. The PM has all his meetings virtually, but 30 odd MPs cannot,” he said.

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