Parliamentary panel to meet in June to discuss govt's action on lockdown

Last Updated 27 May 2020, 16:20 IST

For the first time after COVID-19 lockdown was imposed two months ago, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs will meet next Wednesday to discuss the government's response to the pandemic that has infected over 1.51 lakh and claimed 4,337 lives so far.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla will brief the multi-party panel headed by former Union Commerce Minister and senior Congress MP Anand Sharma on June 3 on the situation arising out of COVID-19 lockdown and its handling by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

This will be the first meeting of a Parliamentary Standing committee since the lockdown was imposed in the country on March 25, which was subsequently extended to May 31.

A senior MP, who is part of the panel, said he is yet to receive the official note on the panel meeting but expressed concern over the logistics. The MP said different states have different set of rules and he needed clarity on whether he would have to undergo quarantine in case of his return to the state.

"There are still some ambiguities. We need clarity," he said.

There has been demands from panel chairpersons like Sharma, Bhartruhari Mahtab (Labour) and Shashi Tharoor (Information and Technology) for convening meeting through video conference but it could not go forward as there were no rules in place to conduct it electronically. Earlier this month, both Naidu and Birla had asked Secretaries General of both the Lower and Upper Houses to submit a report on the possibilities of virtual meetings and time needed to enable secure technology platforms.

During a joint meeting, 22 "like-minded" Opposition parties had also demanded restoration of Parliamentary functioning and oversight with immediate effect by Parliamentary institutions like Standing Committees.

Last Saturday, sources indicated that Parliament was gearing up to hold Standing Committee meetings with air and train travel resuming in COVID-19 lockdown 4.0. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu had reviewed preparedness for regular deliberations in times of social distancing.

Nine rooms in the Parliament House and annexe have been identified for holding regular meetings of the 24 Department Related Standing Committees and another six rooms for other Committees of both the Houses.

Sources said only the Main Committee Room in the annexe enables meetings of the Committees with adherence to social distancing norm following which Naidu and Birla instructed officials to arrange for extra seating to maintain social distancing in other rooms.

The Department Related Standing Committees have 31 MPs -- 21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha -- while other panels of both the Houses have much less number of MPs.

Both the Rajya Sabha Chairman and the Lok Sabha Speaker also said that participation of officials from both the secretariats and the ministries appearing before the committees would be kept to bear minimum to comply with social distancing norm.

Sharma, Tharoor and Mahtab had sought meetings of committees through video conference but both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Secretariats have rejected their demand. In a letter, Mahtab told the Lok Sabha Speaker that at least Parliaments in 23 countries have been conducting virtual meetings despite being under COVID-19 lockdown.

(Published 27 May 2020, 16:20 IST)

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