Digital India in dilemma over online consultations for parliamentary standing committees ahead of Budget 2022

Economic Times, January 14, 2022

Centre’s flagship Digital Indiaprogramme seems to have dived down in dilemma over the demands from top political parties to hold the stalled parliamentary standing committee meetings in online mode.

While the Digital India programme promotes digital adoption across boundaries, it seems to have of not much use for the parliamentary standing committees that are seeking safe technological solutions to hold consultations online.

These demands come amid a rapid surge in the number of Covid-19cases across the country, which has derailed such consultations with physical meetings getting cancelled more than once. With the Union Budget round the corner, slated for February 28, such consultations become vital.

As per government records, no parliamentary standing committees have scheduled any consultations this week following reports of over 700 Parliament staffers testing Covid positive. Further meeting of the standing committee for transport, tourism and culture, which was scheduled for January 17, has been cancelled.

The meeting of the standing committee for education, women, children, youth and sports, which is scheduled to meet on January 19, is also likely to be postponed.

While the presiding officers of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha are exploring ways of holding the budget session by the end of this month, top political parties have demanded to conduct these meetings online.

Earlier during lockdown 2020, demands to hold such online parliamentary consultations were rejected by the presiding officers citing confidentiality norms. The Centre has also cited the stand taken in 2008 by the general purpose committee, headed by then Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari.

The committee had opposed dispensing with the confidentiality of the committee meetings on the grounds that in-camera meetings give members freedom to speak outside of their party lines.

Meanwhile, many top political parties believe that confidentiality can be maintained through online mode as well. Senior Congress leader in Rajya Sabha, Jairam Ramesh last year said, “We have been raising this issue consistently. We do not understand why online meetings cannot be held when every other meeting is being conducted through video-conferencing.”

This news can also be viewed at: