Shadow of uncertainty persists over parliamentary panel meetings

NEW DELHI :
While the opposition is keen on dissecting the Centre’s response to the economic and migrant crisis amid the covid-19 outbreak, and hold it accountable, ruling party members are not immediately interested in holding Parliamentary committee meetings, citing travel restrictions and quarantine rules, health concerns and ongoing relief work in their constituencies.

For the second time in just about a month, the meeting of the Parliamentary standing committee on home affairs, scheduled for Wednesday, was cancelled after National Democratic Alliance members, as well as a section of non-NDA party representatives, expressed their inability to attend the session.

“This is no time for analysis, but time for action. The entire country is fighting covid-19, what is the point of holding meetings now? All parliamentarians should collectively try to help migrant labourers. Analysis and scrutiny can happen later,” said a BJP leader who is part of the committee.

Despite several attempts to convince the secretariats of both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha to hold such meetings over videoconferencing, or any other means using technology, the efforts have fallen through, because of confidentiality clauses related to Parliamentary panel discussions.

Some members were hopeful that the committee would soon meet to discuss what the opposition sees as the failure of the government to tackle the covid-19 crisis, while others ruled out any ‘political motive’ and, instead, said it was important to summon top officials to find out more about current developments.

“The meeting has been deferred or delayed and we are hopeful that it will soon take place. If some members of the opposition see this as an opportunity to corner the government, then they are welcome to do so. We are not scared, and they can go ahead and scrutinise the decisions of the government. The union government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken decisions to help people and there should be no politics on it,” said a second BJP parliamentarian who is also part of the committee.

“All such committees are non-partisan and in the current example, too, we are only trying to assess the role of the government during the pandemic. Several members, including myself, expressed our inability to travel, given the current circumstances. There is no question of having any political motive in either calling officials or expressing difficulty in attending the meet,” a senior opposition leader, who is part of the panel, said requesting anonymity.

He added that there are many examples of past parliamentary panel meetings where top bureaucrats were asked to place their findings before the committees to apprise the lawmakers of the situation, and there were no political motives behind those moves. For instance, former Reserve Bank of India governor Urjit Patel had appeared before the Parliamentary standing committee on finance to brief on the effects of demonetisation and non-performing assets (NPAs) situation in public sector banks, he added. “Such meetings take place to provide suggestions for better running of the country. We are hopeful when the situation improves the meetings will start taking place.”

gyan.v@livemint.com

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