Regular parliamentary committee meetings likely to take place soon

Economics Times, May 26, 2020

With the resumption of air and train services, the process of holding regular meetings of various parliamentary committees has begun. Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla held discussions with the parliament secretariat on the issue, following which 15 rooms in Parliament House and annexe building were identified for holding these meetings.

This would also mean that the idea of holding parliamentary panel meetings through videoconferencing has been shelved for the time being. This proposal had been mooted by heads of different committees a few weeks back as a way out to hold the meetings so that important developments in the wake of the pandemic could be taken up.

The issue had stirred a controversy as the parliamentary panel meetings are held in-camera and the issues discussed are not made public. Holding such meetings through video conference would have compromised the secrecy clause. The two presiding officers had directed the secretary generals of the two houses to examine this issue and find if a fool-proof option was available.

Naidu and Birla held discussions with the parliament secretariat officials on May 23. In the hour-long meeting, the feasibility of holding regular meetings of these committees after the normalisation of air and train services take place were discussed. Precautions like social distancing and sanitising the area were also taken up. Parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi as well as Lok Sabha Secretary General Snehlata Srivastava and her Rajya Sabha counterpart Desh Deepak Verma participated in the meeting.

Sources said nine rooms of Parliament House and annexe building have been identified for holding meetings of 24 department-related standing committees after lockdown 4.0 ends on May 31. Another six rooms have also been shortlisted for meetings of other parliamentary panels like the permanent committees.

Of these 15 rooms, only the main committee room in the annexe is large enough to ensure social distancing noms. Seating arrangement in other rooms will be altered and additional seats with mikes will be installed to maintain social distancing. The presiding officers of the two houses have conveyed that they wish the meetings to be held on a regular basis in the coming days. Each standing committee has 31 members, including the chairperson of the panel. The meetings are also attended by ministry officials, secretariat staff as well as those invited to depose before the panel (mostly in case of Public Accounts Committee and a few other panels). It has been decided that the number of officials will be kept to the minimum.

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