No virtual meetings of House panels possible as of now: RS to Kharge
New Delhi The House committees of Parliament will not be able to meet online amid the raging second wave of the Covid pandemic as the relevant rules have not been amended, a Rajya Sabha communique to leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge said on Friday.
Nearly all meetings of the standing committees have come to a standstill in the past few weeks as lawmakers are unable to come to Delhi amidst the ongoing pandemic. Last week, Kharge appealed to Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu to allow online meetings as many key subjects and issues were pending for discussion.
On Friday, the secretariat wrote back saying that the amendments of rules to allow virtual meetings can be taken up only during the next Parliament session.
“The issue of confidentiality can be resolved during the session as any amendment to the Rules can be approved by the respective Houses only after the matter is considered by the Rules Committees,” it said.
The reply, however, acknowledged that authorities started considering amending rules during the first wave but then the move lost momentum.
The letter, signed by a joint secretary, revealed that “in a similar situation during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hon’ble Chairman and Hon’ble Speaker (Om Birla) had decided in a meeting that the mater regarding holding of virtual meetings of the parliamentary committees vis-à-vis existing provisions and confidentiality of the proceedings of the committees may be referred to the committee on rules in both the Houses.”
“As physical meetings of the Committees were being held regularly, following the guidelines strictly, the matter rested there and the situation had not arisen for considering the matter by the Rules Committees,” the letter added.
The communication also suggested that chances of House panels meeting online amid the pandemic were feeble. “The meetings of the committees can be considered shortly once the situation improves for the better,” it said.
Opposition leaders rejected this position of the secretariat and made a fresh demand for online meetings.
“A wasteful new Parliament building is being constructed in the midst of a national catastrophe, and it is considered an “essential service”. But a simple rule cannot be changed to allow virtual meetings of Standing Committees. Come on Speaker Sir, Chairman Garu!,” tweeted Congress chief whip in the Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh.
Several key meetings, including the strictly guarded Union cabinet meeting and the PM’s meetings on Covid, are being held digitally for the past several months. Recently, the meeting of the entire council of ministers was conducted online.
Authorities, however, pointed out these meetings can be easily held via different platforms, but Parliament has to amend its rule book to allow any deviation from the usual format of MPs gathering at one of the committee rooms to discuss issues, call witnesses or adopt a report.