Govt. against virtual meetings of Parliamentary standing committees, citing confidentiality

Physical meetings of the panels have begun, adhering to social distancing norms

July 12, 2020 09:30 pm | Updated 09:49 pm IST - New Delhi

Former Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari. File

Former Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari. File

The government has refused to allow virtual meetings of Parliamentary standing committees despite repeated demands from the Opposition parties, citing confidentiality norms. In 2008, during Congress-led UPA-1, then Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari had also weighed in in favour of maintaining secrecy of these meetings.

The latest demand came from Congress leader and Chairman of the standing committee on science and technology Jairam Ramesh last Tuesday. The committee met on Friday and other than Mr. Ramesh, there were only six members present.

The question that Mr. Ansari dealt with, was whether there should be a public telecast of the standing committee meetings, just the way Parliamentary sessions are broadcast. The matter came up before the General Purpose Committee that is headed by Rajya Sabha Chairman. It consists of Deputy Chairman, chairman of all committees that are headed by Rajya Sabha members, leaders of political parties with five or more members each in the Rajya Sabha.

The GPC had opposed dispensing with the confidentiality of the committee meetings on the ground that in-camera meetings give members freedom to speak outside of their party lines.

Other than Mr. Ramesh, three chairpersons of department related standing committees — Shashi Tharoor (Information and Technology), Anand Sharma (Home Affairs) and B. Mahtab (Labour) — have earlier made similar demands but were declined.

Speaking to The Hindu , Mr. Ansari said, “In circumstances of today there is no option but to embrace technology. The British Parliament is just one of the Parliaments around the world, Mr. Ansari said, who has been meeting regularly via the video conferencing.

“There is no point of saying that what happened 12 years back is relevant today. Under present circumstances and compulsions imposed by the Coronavirus pandemic, there is no option but to use the virtual medium,” Mr. Ansari said.

From the first week of July, physical meetings of the Parliamentary standing committees have begun. Last week alone, three meetings of standing committees were held in Parliament premises adhering to social distancing norms.

Presently, there are no provisions in the Rules of Procedure for holding of virtual sittings of the Parliamentary committees or allowing the committees to take evidence of official or non-official witnesses or experts on any subject through virtual meeting. The government has maintained that the rules have to be amended by the Rules Committee of both houses of Parliament and then these amended rules have to be cleared. This however, can be done only when Parliament meets.

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