The MPs attending Parliamentary Standing Committee meetings will have to sit six feet apart, and not more than two witnesses from the ministry concerned can appear before the panel at a time.
This is part of the eight-point protocol set by the Rajya Sabha secretariat keeping in mind the COVID-19 pandemic, ahead of the meetings of the Standing Committees on Science and Technology and Home Affairs on July 10 and 15 respectively.
The meeting of the Standing Committee on Home Affairs was convened by its chairman Anand Sharma on June 3, but it had to be called off as members expressed their inability to attend it in view of the prevailing situation due to the pandemic.
As members were facing difficulty in attending the panel meetings due to travel and quarantine restrictions, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who is the chairman of the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Climate Change, has written to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu to allow virtual participation of members in the meeting.
The two presiding officers of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha had earlier deliberated on the issue of holding virtual panel meetings. However, they have not given their approval for it due to existing rules that require changes by the Rules Committee of Parliament and a resolution by the House, according to sources.
The Rajya Sabha has eight Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committees of the House, of which two are chaired by Congress leaders Anand Sharma and Jairam Ramesh.
“Respected M Venkaiah Naidu garu, Standing Committee on Science & Technology is scheduled to meet on July 10th. MPs across parties have asked for virtual sitting of Committee to discuss S&T issues related to COVID-19. I hope you will allow. Where there is will, there is skill (sic),” Mr Ramesh said on Twitter.
In his letter to the Chairman, Mr Ramesh said the panel will discuss ongoing S&T related issues concerning COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing and future S&T programmes to enhance resilience and capacity to deal with such crises.
“Many members of the Committee have expressed their inability to attend this meeting because of travel restrictions, quarantine and other constraints. I am doubtful if we can muster up a quorum.
“But every member irrespective of party affiliation has asked for a virtual sitting of the Committee. Surely, this can be arranged – a number of other countries have held even full Parliament sessions in a virtual mode. I once again request you to allow virtual meetings of the Standing Committees,” he said.
As per the protocol for meetings of Rajya Sabha Committees, members have to ensure conformity with physical distancing norms.
Rajya Sabha Secretariat had discussed the protocol to be followed on May 28, anticipating meetings of some Committees after restrictions on domestic air travel were removed on May 25.
Officials discussed the issue again and announced the updated protocol ahead of the two scheduled meetings.
“Members of the Committee to be seated at a distance of 6 feet and appropriate arrangements to be made to accommodate the maximum possible participation.
“Only two witnesses from the Ministry/Department appearing before the Committee for evidence would be allowed at a time and if more number of witnesses were to be examined, it would be done in turns.
There is no restriction on the number of witnesses to be examined by the Committees,” the new protocol said.
It also stated that material related to the meetings would be supplied to members as soft copies, and reporters will be accommodated in the well of the Committee Rooms for taking verbatim note of the proceedings of the Committees.
While participation of officials related to the Committees will be restricted, the participation of members in the meetings would be ascertained in advance so as to ensure necessary logistics.
Hand Sanitizers, disposable masks and gloves for the members, witnesses, officers and staff of the Secretariat will be ensured at the entrance of the Committee Rooms and their attendance will also be taken outside under the new protocols, the sources said.