After the Lok Sabha Secretariat issued guidelines on the dos and don'ts for Standing Committee meetings, the Rajya Sabha has also drawn up a protocol taking into account the Covid-19 situation.
The development comes after a series of meetings between Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, Rajya Sabha Secretary General and other officers, after which a list of what can be allowed was prepared.
The most important aspect is to ensure that attendees maintain social distancing, with protocol mandating that a distance of six feet be maintained between two persons.
Second, only two officials from a ministry or department would be allowed in the meeting. In case more than two officers are available, they will have to wait outside the venue and can enter in turns. There is no restriction on the number of personnel from a said ministry/department who can be examined by the committees.
No hard copies of documents, papers and reports would be allowed to be brought to the meeting. If the material needs to be distributed, soft copies will be circulated.
Those taking verbatim notes of the meeting will be accommodated in the well of the committee rooms. Attendance of the members would also be marked outside Committee rooms. Committee branches would be advised to keep their supporting staff at the minimum to avoid any violation of Covid-19 rules.
It will be important for members to confirm their presence or absence from a scheduled meeting well in advance so that the administration in Parliament is aware and logistics and other arrangements can be made.
Hand sanitisers, disposable gloves, face covers/masks would be made available for all members, secretariat staff and officials attending the meetings and would be kept outside the room. Sources told News18 that after the meeting, no tea/refreshments/lunch would be served as was the practice earlier.
No decision has been taken so far on how the monsoon session will be held with no vaccine available yet and coronavirus cases continuing to rise. The government, which decides when to hold a session as it is its prerogative, hasn't fixed a date so far and no Cabinet Committee for Parliamentary Affairs meeting has been conducted till now.
However, sources that the dates could be as early as the last week of August or the first week of September. The Budget session was abruptly declared sine die on March 23 because of the Covid-19 situation. Subsequently, the midnight lockdown was declared by the government that very night.
No Parliament Committee meetings were held in these 100-plus days as the lockdown and travel restrictions are still in place in many parts of the country. The rising cases in Delhi have meant not too many MPs were willing to travel for Committee meetings.
In fact, the Home Committee chaired by Congress Deputy Leader of Opposition Anand Sharma was to take place on June 3 but was called off on account of members expressing inability to attend the meeting in view of the prevailing situation.
Both Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Chairman had communicated that virtual meetings of Parliamentary Committees could not be allowed because of the confidentiality clause and the same could only be altered by the Parliament.
Meanwhile, DMK Lok Sabha MP Dayanidhi Maran has again requested for virtual meetings of the Home Committee of which he is a member. The former Union minister has also written to Committee Chairman Anand Sharma seeking exemption from the protocol/SOPs to follow quarantine in case of a visit to Delhi and then back to his home in Chennai, saying this will further risk him to being exposed to the virus.
However, the Committee on Home Affairs would now take place on July 15. Prior to that, a meeting of the Committee on Science and Technology, as well as Environment and Forests, has been convened by Congress MP & Chairman of the committee, Jairam Ramesh on July 10. This Committee has taken up the crucial and pressing matter of Covid 19 - what has been done so far and the road ahead.
Several top officials, including the principal Scientific Advisor of the Union government, have been asked to be present before the Committee. Lok Sabha-related Standing Committees resumed function after more than three months. Notably, the Committee on Welfare of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) had met last week in Parliament.
As everyone waits for the dates to be announced and session to resume, these Committee meetings under strict protocols will equip the authorities to plan ahead.