Government trying to evade Parliamentary oversight: Congress

The Hindu, May 05, 2020

The government is trying to hide behind rules to escape Parliamentary oversight, National Spokesperson for the Congress and Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari asserted on Tuesday.

“In this pandemic, why can’t Parliamentary committees meet virtually,” asked Mr. Tewari, speaking to The Hindu. “There seems to be an attempt to hide behind the rules to escape Parliamentary oversight,” he contended. The Congress MP is a member of the Parliamentary panel on Finance and on April 18 had written a letter to the panel chairperson Jayant Sinha urging him to arrange for a meeting.

“Isn’t the Central government running on videoconferencing? Isn’t the world running on videoconferencing, isn’t G20 happening on videoconferencing? Then how are the parliamentary committees an exception,” Mr. Tewari wondered.

The functioning of the Parliamentary Standing Committees has been suspended due to the countrywide lockdown and both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha secretariats have refused to permit meetings of the panels via video-conferencing. The Secretariats have contended that holding such meetings, where the government shares critical information, virtually could violate the confidentiality clause. Chairman of the IT committee Shashi Tharoor and Chairman of the committee on Home Affairs Anand Sharma had both written to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu seeking permission to hold the meetings.

Mr. Tharoor had on April 20 announced on Twitter that Mr. Birla had permitted holding the meeting by videoconference. Four days later, he tweeted that the Lok Sabha secretariat was yet to approve the “amended rules”.

Addressing a meeting on Monday, Mr. Naidu had observed that there was a need for undivided focus from the Executive on containing the pandemic, adding that a view on holding meetings of the department related standing committees would be taken later.

Mr. Tewari contended that to say that somebody was too busy to attend the Parliament was not acceptable and misleading as regards the role of the legislative institution.

“When Britain was fighting the Second World War, Parliament sat regularly for five years. That was a country at war, the Executive was busy discharging its responsibilities and yet it found time for Parliament. Even during the First World War, the House of Commons kept meeting,” he added.

Observing that the committee meetings were not only a one-way affair with MPs asking questions, Mr. Tewari contended that the government was also ‘enriched’ by the inputs that came directly from the ground.

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