With the spike in Covid-19 cases in Delhi and over 400 staff members testing positive for the virus in Parliament, the pandemic has led to the cancellation of standing committee meetings. Till now, at least five standing committee meetings have been cancelled after taking stock of the situation as India grapples with the third wave of Covid-19.
Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice Chairperson Sushil Modi cancelled a meeting scheduled for tomorrow. Speaking exclusively on the developments to CNN-News18, he said, “the rise in the number of cases is exponential, and we have taken an educated call to postpone our meeting for now. Given the fact that more than 400 staff of the Parliament are currently positive and members of Parliament have to travel from various states to the national capital for these meetings, it is best to avoid travel at this time in the interest of everybody’s health.”
However, Joint Committee for Biological Diversity Bill chairman Sanjay Jaiswal said that he is still monitoring the situation and has not cancelled the meeting yet. “The JPC is not like the standing committees and we have a limited time to submit a report. We will go ahead with the meeting because we need to submit a report by January 29 as per the schedule. We shall see how many members come for the meeting and based on that, we will go ahead,” he said.
The Standing Committee for Urban Development headed by Jagdambika Pal has also decided to cancel the meeting, which was scheduled to take place on Monday. Taking note of the rise in coronavirus cases in Parliament, Pal said, “I had decided to call off the meeting of my committee, and I cannot risk the health of my fellow members and officials at this time.”
The External Affairs Committee led by former Law Minister PP Choudhary is also expected to take a call on the cancellation of the meeting scheduled to take place later this week by tomorrow afternoon.
It is also known via sources that the standing committee on Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology chaired by Jairam Ramesh has decided to cancel the meeting scheduled to take place on Monday.
A similar situation was also witnessed in the last two years in the previous Covid waves when standing committee meetings had to be called for months, leading to several members of Parliament asking both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha chairpersons to allow the panel meetings to function virtually. In the coming days, this debate is likely to be reignited.
It was brought to the notice of the members by both custodians of the house that the standing committee meetings are confidential and cannot be held in the virtual mode. In need for any change, it has to be made only in physical mode and passed by Parliament.
Due to the surge in Coronavirus cases in the parliament, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat has re-imposed restrictions on the attendance of officials and staff. According to the latest directions, 50 per cent of officials and staff below the rank of undersecretary/executive officer are required to work from home till the end of this month. These form about 65 per cent of the total employees in the parliament.
Rajya Sabha chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu has reviewed the situation with secretary-general PC Modi and adviser Dr PPK Ramacharyulu and directed that necessary measures should be taken to contain the spread of the virus. Those with disabilities and pregnant women are exempt from attending office. All official meetings will be held virtually.
Naidu said all officials and staff of over 1,300 should be tested and recovery of the infected persons must be closely monitored and assisted in hospitalisation and treatment if needed.
Naidu also directed regular monitoring and review of the situation. According to sources, 65 personnel in the Rajya Sabha secretariat, 200 in Lok Sabha secretariat and 133 of allied services have tested positive.