Coronavirus lockdown | Opposition, NDA divided on web House panel meetings

A view of Parliament House in New Delhi. File

A view of Parliament House in New Delhi. File   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Akali Dal, LJP support idea, while SP and BSP oppose it

The Opposition and the ruling alliance are divided on the issue of holding meetings of parliamentary standing committees through videoconference allowing members who can’t travel Delhi to participate in them. Two key National Democratic Alliance constituents- the Akali Dal and the Lok Jan Shakti Party support the idea, while Opposition parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) oppose it.

Also read: Standing Committees make up for fewer sittings of Parliament: Naidu

On Monday, Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla referred the matter to the rules committees of the Houses. The panels, headed by Mr. Naidu and Mr. Birla, draw members from all major parties.

Speaking to The Hindu, SP leader and chairman of the standing committee on Health Ramgopal Yadav observed that at present it was far more critical to save lives. “The views expressed in a standing committee by the members and the officials are confidential till they are tabled in Parliament in the form of a report. If meetings are held via videoconference, the confidentiality clause can’t be maintained and this would mean that no government official will speak freely for the fear of their own supervisors.” The last meeting of the health committee was held on March 22 to discuss the Coronavirus pandemic. Mr Yadav said he would explore the possibility of holding a meeting soon.

BSP floor leader and member of the standing committee on External Affairs Ritesh Pandey said while Parliament must meet at the earliest to have a “healthy debate” on the migrant workers’ plight during the extended lockdown, the standing committees could not meet online without a foolproof mechanism ensuring confidentiality. “While there is an urgency to discuss the India-China conflict unfolding in Ladakh, would it be alright to have a meeting on such a sensitive issue via web. Until we have a foolproof mechanism, I believe we can’t hold a standing committee meeting,” he said.

Both the SP and the BSP had skipped the Opposition parties’ May 22 meeting.

Also read: Functioning of Parliamentary Standing Committees | Om Birla asks Lok Sabha Secretariat to hold review

On the other hand, Akali Dal Rajya Sabha member Naresh Gujral argued that the principle of accountability could not be suspended just because there was no vaccine for Coronavirus. “I believe, some way has to be found. If we don’t find a cure for Coronavirus, will we not have standing committee meetings? Democracy, rule of law and principle of accountability can’t be suspended before the pandemic,” he said.

‘Many issues pending’

LJP president Chirag Paswan said there were far too many critical issues pending before the standing committees and their meetings should be immediately called. “I would strongly advocate that the standing committee meetings have to be called at earliest. The committees have only upto 30 members and along with the officials and witnesses who depose, it’s not really a big number and can easily be accommodated in an online meeting,” he stated.

Meanwhile, a meeting of the standing committee on Information Technology (IT), which was scheduled for June 10, has been cancelled. It is the second meeting of a committee to be cancelled in a week’s time after the cancellation of a meeting of the panel on Home Affairs scheduled for June 3.

“It is hard to escape the feeling that those in government who prefer to evade parliamentary oversight are behind the refusal to permit “virtual” committee meetings. Amazed that the PM can meet CMs by video but Committee deliberations cannot occur by the same means! Parliament must meet,” Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who chairs the IT committee, tweeted.

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Printable version | Jul 3, 2020 4:43:19 AM |

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