Rajya Sabha committees can’t meet online, Oppn told. Rules stand in the way
The House committees of Parliament will not be able to meet online amid the raging second wave of Covid19 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 due to the ongoing Covid pandemic. Last week, Kharge appealed to Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu to allow online meetings as many key subjects and issues are 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.”
The reply, however, also acknowledged that authorities did consider suggestions to amend the rules during the first Covid wave but the move lost momentum.
The letter, signed by a joint secretary-rank official in the secretariat, said: “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 the chances of the House panels meeting online now amid this pandemic are slim. “The meetings of the committees can be considered shortly once the situation improves for better”.
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 Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh.
Several key meetings including those of the Union cabinet and the PM’s meetings on Covid have been held digitally for the past many months. Recently, the entire council of ministers also held an online meeting.
Authorities, however, pointed out these meetings can be easily held in different platforms, but Parliament has to amend its rule books 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.