Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla have directed the Secretary Generals of both the Houses to explore the feasibility of holding “virtual” meetings of the standing committees, following a growing demand from various committee chairpersons and members.
The decision was taken on Thursday after the two presiding officers met at Mr. Naidu’s residence. With a prolonged lockdown and all domestic flights shut down, the two, as per a statement from the Rajya Sabha Secretariat felt that conventional meetings of the committees might not be possible in the near future and there was need to enable alternative means.
The budget session of Parliament abruptly ended on March 23 and there had been no meetings of parliamentary panels since then.
So far, the both the Secretariats had maintained that committee meetings can’t be held via videoconferences since it violates the confidentiality clause.
“The government reveals crucial information at these meetings. How can anyone ensure that the member at the other end of the video call is alone and no one else is sitting in the meeting other than him or her,” a Lok Sabha official said.
The Secretary Generals have been asked to examine in detail the pros and cons of holding such meetings by videoconference by taking into consideration the present Rules of Business, the practices and experiences of various countries in respect of such virtual meetings and the time required to enable secure technology platforms required for such mode of meetings.
“The report of the two top officials of Parliament will form the basis for a considered decision by both the Presiding Officers in the matter,” a press note said.
Chairman of the IT committee Shashi Tharoor and Chairman of the committee on Home Affairs Anand Sharma had written to Mr. Birla and Mr. Naidu seeking permission to hold meetings but were denied. After this, Chairman of the Committee on Labour B Mahtab wrote to Mr. Birla, urging him to reconsider his decision citing extensive use of videoconferencing to carry on parliamentary work in many nations.
Many other MPs too had flagged the issue. Congress MP Manish Tewari , who is a member of the standing committee on Finance, had written to panel chairman Jayant Sinha, urging him to arrange for a meeting since the pandemic has worsened the already precarious economic situation.