New Delhi: Several parliamentarians have expressed a strong reservation against meetings of Standing Committees and other panels being scheduled in the first week of June.
Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla had last week discussed feasibility of holding parliamentary panel meetings since flights and rail services were gradually being restored.
However, many MPs from across the political spectrum have questioned the need to travel when interactions could also be conducted over video-conferencing.
As per the schedule available, Rajya Sabha-appointed Committee for Home Affairs is to meet on June 3 and the Lok Sabha-appointed Committee for Labour has a meeting on June 5. This is subject to member availability.
Chairman for the Standing Committee for Labour, senior Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, who called for the committee meeting on June 5, told CNN-News18 that he has received communication from 15 MPs willing to attend the meet.
“However, two MPs - one from Kerala and one from Tamil Nadu - expressed reservations about travelling. We had in April written to the Speaker about allowing meeting via video conferencing. Many countries are holding Parliament via it. I’m still waiting for the Speaker to reply," he said.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi expressed helplessness over the change in procedure, saying that once the lockdown ends and Parliament Session convenes, the government can look at the possibilities.
“We are aware of the member concerns. But as of now, there is a confidentiality clause with parliamentary committee meetings. We are bound by the rules," he said.
The confidentiality clause means that members have to be physically present for the meetings. Sources indicate that changing of the confidentiality clause for holding parliamentary committee meetings will have to be passed by the Parliament, which currently is not possible.
However, MPs contested this and said the guardians of both Houses have the power to suspend the rules because of the extraordinary situation of the pandemic, which has led to an over two-month lockdown.
Several rounds of meetings between Venkaiah Naidu and Om Birla have taken place over the last month, but there has been no outcome on video conferencing.
The Committee of Home Affairs meeting scheduled for June 3 has seen former union minister and DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran shoot off a letter to the Chairman of the committee, Congress leader Anand Sharma, citing his reservation about travelling to Delhi from Covid-19 hit Tamil Nadu.
"When the top courts, PMO, home ministry, and even the armed forces feel secure using video conferencing, why not the Members of Parliament,” he asked.
BJP MP from Bengal, Dilip Ghosh, has also said he is not keen on travelling to Delhi for now. The party’s Bengal unit chief, who's a member of the Standing Committee for Home Affairs, said he has written to Anand Sharma opposing the meeting.
“I have written to Anand Sharma ji. It's not a good idea to hold meetings right now. (There is a) lot of work for an MP to do in their constituency right now. Plus we are concerned about our health safety hazards while travelling now in the thick of this crisis."
Senior Congress MP Manish Tewari has already raised the issue with the Lok Sabha Speaker. The former union minister told CNN-News18 that it was unfortunate that no SOP’s have been put in place for MP’s to travel despite the fact that Parliament was in session when the lockdown was imposed on March 23.
“It has been 70 days and yet there is no protocol that allows MP’s to travel back and forth to their constituencies. MP’s have two places of work, their constituencies and Delhi. Subjecting MP’s to varying quarantine rules in different states will disincentive their Parliamentary work. However that seems to be the intent of the government and the autonomy and sovereignty of the House is getting impacted,” he said.
Trinamool Congress senior MP and Rajya Sabha floor leader Derek O'Brien was more stinging in his appraisal of the administration’s handling of the issue.
"Clueless! They are all waiting for ‘instructions’ from the duo Mo-Sha (Modi-Shah). So there is little use speculating on how all this will proceed,” he said.
On Friday, two floors of Parliament annexure building had to be sealed because a D-level officer of the Rajya Sabha Secretariat had tested Covid-19 positive.