The Standing Committee for Home Affairs chaired by Congress deputy Leader of Rajya Sabha met on Wednesday in Parliament to discuss Covid-19 related matters.
Top officials including Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla from Ministry of Home Affairs, Lav Aggarwal, Joint Secretary from the Ministry of Health, and officers from Railways were present before the Committee.
Close to 12 MPs were present in the meeting. Anand Sharma, Ravneet Singh Bittu from the Congress whereas Neeraj Shekhar, Bhupendra Yadav, Satyapal Singh, Rakesh Sinha, Anil Jain were some present from the BJP.
A detailed presentation was made by Home Secretary Bhalla on lockdown, gradual unlocking and opening up in the last 3.5 months since the pandemic began. He also highlighted the issue of cooperative federalism where the central government has been taking all states along with it in the fight.
Sources say Bhalla, on behalf of the government, highlighted how every state government was part of meetings with Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary and he had many meetings with state government bureaucrats to fight this menace together.
All the members jointly expressed concerns about the availability of affordable medicines like Remdesivir. Jain, Rajya Sabha MP from BJP, asked Health Ministry officials about what was being done for expensive medicines being pushed by pharma lobbies. Several other MPs were also concerned about the black marketing of medicines amidst the pandemic. Members even named some inexpensive medicines and questioned why the government wasn't promoting it.
Agarwal is said to have told the MPs that the Health Ministry has taken note of their concerns and that they will get back to them with further details.
Bittu raised the matter of how much money from the SDRF (State Disaster Relief Fund) could a state use and it was not clearly explained to the states. Bhalla clarified his query and it was satisfactory, sources say.
Bjp Rajya Sabha MP Neeraj Shekhar, as per sources, raised the issue of wages for migrant labourers, minimum wages guarantee and whether till when those living away from homes like students and migrants would not have to pay rent for the premises they're living in. Bhalla made note of this and said the government would revert back to the Committee.
After 3-plus months, the first meeting of Home Committee was able to take place with all Covid protocols in place. A source said close to 35 people including MPs, ministry officials, Secretariat staff were present in the meeting. Everyone wore masks and some MPs didn't even take off their mask while speaking.
A few MPs had expressed their reservation to travel to Delhi for fear of infection and compulsory quarantine upon their return home. Just last week DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran had written to Anand Sharma expressing his inability to attend the Committee meeting for the above mentioned reason and once again pressing for Committee meet to happen virtually.
BJP Bengal president and Lok Sabha MP Dilip Ghosh has also communicated to Sharma about not being able to come to Delhi for the meeting. A lockdown is in place in Kolkata in containment zones and restrictions on flights from Kolkata to some places like Delhi is in place.
Earlier a meeting of Home Committee was scheduled to take place on June 3. That was cancelled since MPs wrote to Sharma about not being able to travel to Delhi in the thick of pandemic. Sharma then had communicated to Rajya Sabha Secratariat about MPs asking for a virtual meet of parliamentary committees. This was then conveyed to Sharma from Venkaiah Naidu, Rajya Sabha Chairman office, that in order to allow virtual Committee meeting an amendment has to be made to the existing confidentiality code which can only be passed by parliament.
Sources in the meeting said Health Ministry officials stated they were more concerned about oxygen availability than ventilators.
Railways officials were unable to give data on state-wise migrant workers who travelled and Shramik Special trains.
Also officials said the lockdown was crucial in controlling cases. As per the estimates, if there was no lockdown in place, India would have seen a rise of 50 lakh cases in August, with deaths mounting to 1.5 lakh.