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No virtual meetings of Parliamentary panels right now

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New Delhi, May 14: Virtual meetings of parliamentary standing committees cannot take place as it requires an amendment in rules which is not possible as the Parliament is not in session, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat stated in a letter to Leader of Opposition in the Upper House Mallikarjun Kharge, sources said on Friday.

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Earlier this week, Kharge had urged Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu to allow virtual meetings of parliamentary standing committees, saying the Parliament cannot be a mute spectator to people''s suffering.

In a letter to the Rajya Sabha chairman, Kharge had sought his intervention, saying that parliamentary panels can contribute to the ongoing endeavours in containing this pandemic and providing relief to people.

A similar demand was also made by TMC Floor Leader in the Rajya Sabha Derek O'' Brien.

Responding to Kharge''s demand, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat wrote a letter, saying that presiding officers of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have discussed the matter.

In a similar fashion during the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic, the Rajya Sabha chairman and the Lok Sabha speaker had decided to refer holding of virtual meetings of the committees to the Rules Committee in lieu of the existing rules and confidentiality clause, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat said according to the letter.

As physical meetings of the committees were being held regularly, following the guidelines strictly, the matter rested there and the situation had not arisen for considering the matter by the Rules Committees in both the Houses, it stated.

The meetings of the committees can be considered shortly once the situation improves for the better, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat said, adding, "the issue of confidentiality can be resolved during the session as any amendment to the rules can be approved by respective houses only after the matter is considered by the Rules Committee".

In wake of the pandemic, opposition parties had also demanded for a virtual session of the Parliament. But, both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha made arrangements for holding the sessions physically, with the Houses sitting in different shifts and observing social distancing among members.

A similar approach was followed in parliamentary standing committee meetings, and the members were instructed to wear masks and sit at six feet distance from each other.

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