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Hope for parliamentary panels meetings but doubts remain



New Delhi: Parliamentary committees are hopeful of having a regular meeting with members being physically present but there are still apprehensions about whether these plans will see the light of day in July as the number of COVID-19 cases rise in the national capital and quarantine rules continue in Unlock 2.

The Public Accounts Committee has scheduled its meeting for the fifth time to July 10. Sources said PAC Chairperson Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had fixed a meeting for July 3, the fourth such meeting since the committee was reconstituted this financial year.

It was postponed to July 10 (Friday) as members expressed their inability to attend. All the sittings were fixed for Fridays with the hope that a weekend will be more convenient for the members to make it to the meeting.

The new PAC constituted at the beginning of this financial year has not held any meeting so far. The first meeting is crucial as selection of subjects to be taken up will be finalised in this sitting.

Unlike other parliamentary committees, the PAC chairperson is only the “first among equals” and cannot decide the agenda unilaterally. It has to be done in a sitting of the panel.

The reasons for deferment of the parliamentary panel meetings is the same- most members fear that they will be quarantined for 7-14 days upon their return from Delhi to their home state.

The national capital becoming the hotspot with highest number of COVID-19 cases has also made members jittery about attending these meetings.

Standing Committee on Labour Chairperson Bhartruhari Mahtab is optimistic that a meeting can be convened soon. The draft report on the social security code is nearly completion and a call is likely to be taken this Friday (July 3) on when the next meeting of the committee should be held.

Around 80 questions had been posed by members of the Standing Committee on the social security code. These were formulated and sent to the Labour ministry for its response. Academics, experts, trade unions and other stake holders have already deposed before the committee.

“Once the report is drafted and seen by the panel chairperson, it will be circulated among the members of the Standing Committee. Thereafter, a meeting of the committee will be held to adopt the report,” the sources said.

Mahtab had fixed dates twice in May for a meeting of the Labour committee but the panel could not meet. Some officials working with the panel had tested positive for COVID-19. Some members had also written to the panel chairperson expressing their inability to attend due to quarantine rules.

The Committee on Welfare of Other Backward Classes had met on June 29, giving hope to other panel chairpersons that such sittings can soon take place regularly.

However, it is mostly the members from the Opposition and the non-NDA parties who are more keen on the meeting as they want to question the government on a host of important developments that have taken place in the last few weeks.

Hybrid meetings- a combination of some members being physically present while others join through video conference- have been ruled out by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on the grounds that the parliamentary panel sittings have to be in-camera and adhere to the secrecy clause.


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