Rejecting calls from the opposition as well as some parties that support Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla have refused to allow parliamentary committees to function virtually because of the pandemic.
With legislative work at a standstill, the presiding officers of the two houses of parliament have rejected requests to allow virtual meetings, citing technicalities and confidentiality clauses.
They suggested that once the situation returns to normal, physical meetings can take place – otherwise, it will take for an amendment in the rules, a note from the Rajya Sabha secretariat said.
The move has upset opposition parties which have questioned how the government can carry on the construction of a new parliament building as an essential activity but has ruled that legislative oversight is not essential.
“I am not surprised. In spite of repeated requests for almost a year, virtual meetings of Standing Committees have been inexplicably disallowed. The PM has all his meetings virtually, but 30 odd MPs cannot. Nowhere in the world has Parliament run away from its duties like in India,” Congress MP Jairam Ramesh tweeted.
A wasteful new Parliament building is being constructed in the midst of a national catastrophe, and it is considered an “essential service”. But a simple rule cannot be changed to allow virtual meetings of Standing Committees.
Come on Speaker Sir, Chairman Garu! pic.twitter.com/kfpQ1wJphi
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) May 14, 2021
Across the world, from the United States to the United Kingdom, democratic countries have allowed their parliaments and committees to function via video conferencing and other systems.
Several MPs across party lines that NDTV spoke to say they are all concerned with the lack of legislative oversight.
While the courts and the executive have been functioning even during the pandemic, the legislature’s role is being undermined and this has serious consequences especially during a public health emergency, they say. The decision to amend the rules was also not considered last year.
Opposition members have questioned the double standards since cabinet meetings and important matters of national security have been discussed in virtual mode and yet parliamentary committees which allow the opposition to oversee government decisions have been paralysed.
“The move to block parliamentary committees to run virtually is an attempt to not allow the opposition to function,” one parliamentarian said.
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