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Parliament issues Covid-19 protocol for holding committee meetings

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on July 07, 2020 Published on July 07, 2020

The protocol was arrived at following elaborate parleys held by the presiding officers of the two Houses

MPs press for virtual gatherings

After nearly a four-month break, departmental Standing Committees of Parliament started functioning on Tuesday with a fresh eight-point Covid-19 protocol that includes physical distancing and reduction in the number of staff and officials attending meetings.

The first meeting on Tuesday was of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Petroleum with less than half the strength. MPs and some chairpersons of the committees have, in the meantime, sent their suggestions for further improvement in the protocol, with a very strong demand from senior MPs including Jairam Ramesh and Dayanidhi Maran for virtual meetings, citing logistical reasons for not being able to be physically present.

Ramesh, pushing for virtual meetings in a letter to Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu, has said that many MPs have “expressed their inability to attend the meetings due to travel restrictions, quarantine and other constraints”. Maran, a member of the Standing Committee on Home Affairs, which could not take place on June 3 because of MPs’ inability to be physically present, has written to Committee Chairperson Anand Sharma underlining the need for a virtual meeting because quarantine rules in Tamil Nadu would have to be waived if he is to attend the meeting.

The protocol for a total of 24 department-related Standing Committees was arrived at following elaborate parleys held by the presiding officers of the two Houses — Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla. The protocol requires MPs who are members of the Committees to be seated at a distance of 6 feet and all material related to the meetings supplied as soft copies. Hand sanitisers, disposable masks and gloves for the attendees would be provided at the entrance of the Committee rooms.

‘Compromising confidentiality’

While the Lok Sabha protocol refuses participation of even the stenographers, who record the verbatim proceedings, and advises the concerned ministry to reduce the number of attending officials to five, the Rajya Sabha protocol allows recorders in the meetings and allows only two witnesses in one meeting. The restriction in the protocols with regard to having hard copies of documents to be discussed in the meetings has also been questioned by some MPs.

According to the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Labour, Bhartruhari Mahtab, the Lok Sabha secretariat decision to not have stenographers and have audio recordings of the proceedings “severely compromises” the confidentiality clause for the deliberations. “It has been stipulated that no parliamentary reporter would record the evidence tendered by the official/non-official witnesses, rather audio recording of the evidence would be done and sent to the reporters for supply of transcripts… Audio recording of the committee proceedings may severely compromise the confidentiality clause of the deliberations and at times may contain some unsavoury and out-of-context conversations which are expunged by the Chair,” said Mahtab, in his letter to Birla.

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Published on July 07, 2020
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