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Parliaments in the Time of the Pandemic

Democratic accountability demands that the executive decisions and actions during the pandemic need to be subjected to legislative scrutiny. However, this process is absent as the Parliament is adjourned and even the parliamentary committees are not functioning. Taking a cue from the parliaments worldwide that are functional during the pandemic, modalities to ensure the functioning of parliamentary institutions need to be devised.

On 23 March 2020, the budget session of Parliament, scheduled to run till 2 April 2020, was cut short and adjourned sine die (indefinitely) in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The budget session, which had started on 31 January 2020, one day after the World Health Organization declared this outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, witne­ssed 23 sittings during which many members of Parliament (MPs) raised questions related to the novel coronavirus and statements were made by ministers on the same. A question search on the Lok Sabha website throws up 44 results, with one of the earliest questions asked on 7 February on the screening of coronavirus cases to which the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare provided a detailed response on steps taken (Lok Sabha 2020a). Some ­other questions in the Lok Sabha pertained to the impact of the coronavirus on trade ­directed to Ministry of Finance (Lok Sabha 2020b) and discrimination faced by students from north-eastern parts of the country directed to the Ministry of ­Human Resource and Development (Lok Sabha 2020c).

Another 40 questions were raised in the Rajya Sabha, with the earliest on 11 February on measures to prevent the spread of the disease (Rajya Sabha 2020a). The Mini­stry of Labour and Employment was also questioned about the impact of the coronavirus on employment, and the ministry admitted to not having any data on ­retrenchments caused due to the same (Rajya Sabha 2020b). During this 23-day short budget session, the minister of health and family welfare made two statements each on the floor of both the houses apprising members of the steps taken, and two statements were made by the minister of external affairs about ­Indians stranded in other countries.1 All these questions and concerns raised by the MPs, along with statements made and ­responses given by ministers, are the outcome of the constitutional scheme of our parliamentary democracy.

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Updated On : 15th Jun, 2020

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