Anand Sharma questions bar on his move to hold panel meet via videoconference

NEW DELHI: The Rajya Sabha secretariat has conveyed to the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, Anand Sharma, that it won’t be possible to hold a committee meeting via video conferencing on Tuesday on the grounds that the standing committee proceedings are strictly in camera and videoconferencing is against the rules.

Sharma asked: “Should the process of the highest platform of India democracy, Parliament and House Committees be shut down in the name of lockdown?” Sharma is in the process of writing to the Rajya Sabha chairman to take up the matter further. Talking to ET, Sharma pointed out how Parliaments and their committees continue to function in many countries despite the lockdown. He said the Rajya Sabha chairman and Lok Sabha Speaker should ask the government to provide Parliament a “secure platform” to conduct House Committee meetings, if confidentiality is indeed the real concern. “I completely disagree with this decision that the department-related standing committees of Parliament can’t hold meetings via videoconference in this extraordinary situation arising out of the lockdown by arguing that the committee’s meetings via videoconferencing will breach the confidentiality due to the recording.

The country is now in lockdown, the economy is now in lockdown and should the highest platform of democracy, that is Parliament and its committees, be shutdown in the name of lockdown,” he wanted to know. Sharma said: “It is important that the Standing Committee on Home Affairs scrutinise the executive decisions taken by MHA which is coordinating the lockdown and relief activities, including the handling of migrant workers.”

He pointed out how in many countries, including the US and the UK, Parliaments continue to function despite lockdown. “Even Senate committees and the House Committees are holding their meetings,” he said. Sharma further asked: “If the prime minister and the CMs could safely hold meetings via videoconferences and, if the Lok Sabha Speaker could also hold a safe videoconferencing with the Speakers of state assemblies, why can’t the standing committees of Parliament do the same. Yet, if the concern about confidentiality of the standing committees is so much, I suggest the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha to immediately ask the government to provide secure platforms to Parliament so that standing committees can function, as others do, via videoconference.”

Sharma asked how the parliamentary committee on salary and allowances was allowed to hold a virtual meeting to propose cutting of MPs’ allowances. “I would like to ask how the parliamentary committee on MPs’ salary and allowances was allowed to hold a virtual meeting soon after the Union Cabinet decided to cut MPs’ salaries and freeze MPLAD funds to propose cutting MPs’ allowances too. I have no issues about cutting MPs’ salary and allowances. I am simply asking how that parliamentary panel was allowed to hold a virtual meeting.”

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