Allow committee meets, virtually | HT Editorial
Parliamentary panels are essential; let them do their jobUpdated: Jul 16, 2020 06:36 IST
The Parliament of India has been a victim of the coronavirus pandemic. The Budget session ended early — and rightly so, given the surge in Covid-19 cases. The monsoon session has not been scheduled yet. Given the compulsions of social distancing, the predicament of officials in coming up with a workable formula to ensure that India’s most important democratic institution is functional — but safe — is understandable. But it can be legitimately argued that not enough thought has gone into finding such methods.
But even as having full sessions of both houses must be the goal, it is perplexing that parliamentary committees — which are important pillars in keeping the government accountable, rigorously examining an issue of public interest, and developing a cross-party consensus on issues — have been barely functional. This is primarily because virtual meetings of panels have not been allowed, and physical meetings are difficult given that Members of Parliament (MPs) are spread out across the country, with difficulties in mobility and state-specific quarantine rules. In this backdrop, given how the rest of the world has adapted to digital technologies, an obvious solution would have been to allow committees to adapt and meet virtually.
But this has not happened and two reasons have been offered as justification. The first is that rules don’t allow it — but then the obvious solution is tweaking rules, given the circumstances. The second, more important, reason is the need for secrecy — which may not be possible during a virtual meeting. The solution to this is ensuring the use of technological platforms which are secure, and owned and vetted by the government. The prime minister, for instance, uses video conference facilities for a range of meetings. And if the top executive can do it, so can
the legislature. Insisting on physical meetings — just recently, MPs who attended a committee meeting had to go into quarantine because a staff of a committee secretariat tested positive — isn’t wise. India is confronted by a range of serious issues, from the pandemic to economic distress, from the security threat from China to rapidly changing global geopolitics. All of them require careful examination. MPs have a role in providing inputs, scrutinising the executive’s approach, involving domain experts in the discussion, and ensuring accountability. Let them get back to work.