Rajya Sabha announces COVID-19 Protocol for Standing Committee meetings

RSTV Bureau
File photo: RAJYA SABHA

File photo: RAJYA SABHA

The Rajya Sabha Secretariat today announced an 8 point protocol to be adhered to while enabling the meetings of the 8 Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committees of the House.

The development comes following a series of meetings between Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, Rajya Sabha Secretary General and other officers, after which a list of what can be allowed was prepared.

The most important aspect is to ensure that attendees maintain social distancing and for that, the protocol mandates that a distance of six feet be maintained between two persons.

Secondly, only two officials from a ministry or department would be allowed in the meeting. In case more than two officers are available, they will have to wait outside the meeting venue and can come in only taking turns. There is no restriction on the number of personnel from a said ministry/department who can be examined by the committees.

No hard copies of documents, papers, reports, etc. would be allowed to be brought to the meeting. If the material needs to be distributed, then soft copies will need to be circulated.

Those taking verbatim notes of the meeting will be accommodated in the well of the committee rooms. Attendance of the members would also be marked outside the Committee rooms. Committee branches would also be advised to keep their supporting staff at the minimum to avoid any violation of the COVID-19 rules.

It will be important for members to confirm their presence or absence from a scheduled meeting well in advance so that the administration in Parliament is aware and logistics and other arrangements can be made.

Hand sanitisers, disposable gloves, face covers/masks would be made available for all members, secretariat staff and officials attending the Committee meetings. These would be kept outside the meeting room.

No decision has been taken so far on how the monsoon session will be held with no vaccine available yet and rising COVID-19 cases. Government, which decides when to hold a session, as it is their prerogative hasn’t fixed a date so far and no Cabinet Committee for Parliamentary Affairs meeting has been conducted till now.

The Budget session was abruptly declared sine die on March 23 because of the COVID-19 situation. Subsequently, the midnight lockdown was declared by the government that very night.

No Parliament Committee meetings were held in these 100-plus days as the lockdown and travel restrictions are still in place in many parts of the country. The rising cases in the national capital have meant that not too many MPs were willing to travel to Delhi for Committee meetings.

Both Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Chairman had communicated that virtual meetings of Parliamentary Committees could not be allowed because of the confidentiality clause and the same could only be altered by the Parliament.