Parliament panel meetings stalled amid Covid-19 spike
- The Labour panel, led by Bhartruhari Mahtab, planned to meet on April 23 to discuss cotton plantations and scheduled a study tour in April.
The recess between Parliament sessions is usually a hectic period for Indian parliamentary committees to hold meetings, summon witnesses or ready reports. But not this year.
As the national capital and large parts of the country reel under renewed waves of Covid-19, many house committees had to cancel their meetings and no new meetings are planned.
Parliament could work for only 34 days since the pandemic hit the country in March last year. The winter session had to be cancelled while three others were cut short. Now with the House panels’ work coming to a halt, Parliament’s potential and performance has been severely restricted amid the second wave of Covid-19 that so far has been the deadliest.
The Labour panel, led by Bhartruhari Mahtab, planned to meet on April 23 to discuss cotton plantations and scheduled a study tour in April. “We had to cancel both. In my panel, at least 15-16 members are in the National Capital Region or Uttar Pradesh and can travel by road to any panel meeting. But some of them were reluctant to come for meetings,” said Mahtab.
A meeting of the agriculture committee was similarly cancelled, said officials. Another meeting of the IT panel, led by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, had to be cancelled. Usually, three to four meetings of various parliamentary committees are scheduled in a week. Now, the schedule in the portal of both Houses is blank.
On Saturday, the chart for booking committee rooms for Rajya Sabha panels showed that not a single room has been booked for May, indicating that panel members are possibly waiting for the Covid-19 wave to subside before deciding to meet.
Officials said while the situation is preventing some lawmakers in other states from travelling to Delhi, many parliamentary officials are working from home. “So, even if a panel wants to meet, proper arrangements for that meeting may be a challenge,” said a senior official.
Karti Chidambaram, a member of the IT panel, said, “It’s very unfortunate that no meetings are taking place. We repeatedly requested Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu to allow online meetings. If the PM can hold cabinet meetings online, why can’t Parliament committees meet digitally?”
Officials said so far, no proposal to allow digital meetings has been taken up at the top level. “But if the situation continues, authorities might have to consider allowing digital meetings of standing committees,” said a second official