Why in News?
Recently, the Government passed three agriculture bills in Rajya Sabha. However, the Opposition protested against the fact that two of the three bills had not been scrutinised by a Parliamentary Committee.
The extension of tenure of Parliamentary Standing Committees from one year to two years is being deliberated by Rajya Sabha Chairman, M Venkaiah Naidu. However, since these committees are joint committees, comprising members of both Houses, the Speaker, Om Birla, has to assent to the extension.
What are Parliamentary Committees?
Parliament scrutinises legislative proposals (Bills) in two ways:
by discussing it on the floor of the two Houses. All bills have to be taken up for debate on the floor of the House, as a legislative requirement;
by referring a bill to a Parliamentary Committee.
A Parliamentary Committee is a committee that:
is appointed or elected by the House or nominated by the Speaker/Chairman;
works under the direction of the Speaker/Chairman;
presents its report to the House or to the Speaker/Chairman; and
has a secretariat provided by the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha.
Purpose of Parliamentary Committees:
A Parliamentary committee focuses on remedying the legislative infirmity of debate on the floor of the House. Given that the House meets for less than 100 days, which does not leave enough time to discuss every Bill in detail on the floor of the House, and further, such debates are political and do not focus on the technical details of the bill.
A Parliamentary committee discharges the important function of making the administration accountable to the Parliament.
Parliamentary Committees offer:
efficiency and transparency
expert knowledge in law making
inclusive participation of members from opposition
unbiased and objective discussion above party lines
There are three broad paths by which a Bill can reach a Parliamentary Committee:
The minister introducing the Bill recommends to the House that his Bill be examined by a Select Committee (Committee of one House i.e. either Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha) of the House or a Joint Committee of both Houses.
The presiding officer of the House can also send a Bill to a Parliamentary Committee.
A Bill passed by one House can be sent by the other House to its Select Committee.
A Committee’s report is recommendatory nature and is not binding on the Government. The Committee can also suggest its own version of the Bill.
Types of Parliamentary Committees:
India’s Parliament has multiple types of committees. They can be differentiated on the basis of their work, their membership and the length of their tenure.
However, broadly there are two types of Parliamentary Committees – Standing Committees and Ad Hoc Committees.
Standing Committees are permanent (constituted every year or periodically) and work on a continuous basis.
Ad Hoc Committees are temporary and are formed on need basis
Types of Parliamentary Committees
Public Accounts Committee
Examines the annual reports of the Government; scrutinizes the reports of Comptroller and Auditor General presented in the parliament by the President; ascertains whether money allotted by parliament to government has be spent within scope of demand.
15 members from LS and 7 from RS.
Term – 1 year.
Examines the estimates of the expenditure proposed by the government in the budget and suggests ‘economies’ in public expenditure; reports improvements in organisation, efficiency or administrative reform, consistent with policy underlying the estimates that may be affected.
30 members, elected from within LS.
Term – 1 year.
Committee on Public Undertakings
Examines the reports and accounts of public undertakings.
15 members of LS, 7 from RS
Departmental Standing Committees (DSC)
There are a total of 24 DSCs, 8 under Rajya Sabha and 16 under Lok Sabha.
Functions of these Departmental Standing Committees are:
Working upon the demand for grants of the concerned ministries;
Examining the bills of the concerned ministry;
Working upon the annual reports of the ministries;
Considering policy documents presented the ministries before both the houses.
DSCs do not:
Consider day-to-day administration.
Intervene in matters taken up by other departmental standing committees.
Recommendations of DSCs are advisory in nature, hence are not binding on the Parliament.
Committees to Inquire
Committee on Petitions:
Examines petitions on a bill or any matter of general public importance.
Committee of Privilege:
Acts on and proposes suitable action against any member who breaches the code of the House.
Semi-judicial in nature.
Lok Sabha - 15 members, Rajya Sabha – 10 members.
Acts on and proposes suitable action against any member who engages in misconduct and indiscipline.
Committees to Scrutinise and Control
Committee on Government Assurances:
Examines the extent of promises, assurances and undertakings made by and carried through by a minister makes any promise, or assure, or take any undertaking in the Parliament;
Has 15 members in Lok Sabha and 10 members in Rajya Sabha.
Committee on Subordinate Legislation:
Examines whether the executives are properly exercising their powers to make regulations, rules, sub-rules and bye-laws delegated by the Parliament or conferred by the Constitution;
In both the houses, the committee comprises 15 mess.
Committee on Papers Laid on the Table:
Scrutinizes the credibility of any paper laid on the table and if that paper complies with the provisions of the Constitution;
It has 15 members in Lok Sabha and 10 in Rajya Sabha.
Committee on Welfare of SCs and STs:
Considers and deliberates upon the reports of National Commission for SCs and National Commission for STs are considered by this committee;
It consists of 30 members; 20 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha.
Committee on Empowerment of Women:
The report of National Commission for women is considered by this committee.
Joint Committee on Offices of Profit:
Examines the composition and character of committees and other bodies appointed by the central, state and union territory governments and recommends whether persons holding these offices should be disqualified from being elected as members of Parliament.
Committees Relating to the Day-to-Day Business of the House
Business Advisory Committee:
Regulates the time-table of the House.
Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions:
Classifies bills and allocates time for the discussion on bills and resolutions introduced by private members.
Makes proposals for amendments to rules of the House.
Committee on Absence of Members from Sittings of the House:
Monitors leave applications by members of the House.
House-Keeping Committees or Service Committees
General Purposes Committee:
Takes up matters that do not fall under the jurisdiction of other parliamentary committees.
Supervises the facilities given to members of the Houses in the name of residences, food, medical aid, etc.
Manages the library of the houses and the amenities attached with it.
Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members:
Frames rules under the Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament Act, 1954. It consists of 10 members from Lok Sabha and 5 from Rajya Sabha.
Ad Hoc Committees
1. Inquiry Committees
These committees can be proposed by either House. They can also be appointed by the speaker/chairman of the respective House. Examples of Inquiry Committees include:
Joint Committee on Bofors Contract
Joint Committee on Fertilizer Pricing
Joint Committee to Enquire into Irregularities in Securities and Banking Transactions
Joint Committee on Stock Market Scam, etc.
2. Advisory Committees
These committees are select or joint committees appointed for matters of particular bills.
Different from the inquiry committees as the procedure that they follow are laid down in the Rules of Procedure and also are directed by the Lok Sabha Speaker or Rajya Sabha Chairman.
Issues in the Committee System
Fewer Bills referred: The ratio of bills referred to committees to bills passed is very low.
Longer tenure: the committee system allows smaller group of legislators develop technical expertise and ensure better deliberation. However, in the current system, the tenure is only one year and for any expertise to develop, a longer tenure is required.
Lack of research support: Examining bills referred to a committee requires the members of the committee to have technical expertise. Lack of research support prevents the committees from being able to provide quality and nuanced recommendations.
Discussion of committee reports: discussions not taken up seriously as committee recommendations are not binding on financial matters such as budgets etc.
Making Parliamentary Committees More Effective
Strengthening committees and scrutinising reports in a timely manner.
The discussion of committee reports in the Parliament must be encouraged.
A constitution committee can be set up to examine constitutional amendments instead of them being presented in the House as an ordinary bill.
Legislative committee of parliament to oversee and coordinate legislative planning and improving information supply.
Oversight committee to oversee effective and proper functioning of other committees
Encouraging greater public participation via various online mediums.
Formulating a defined procedure and consequences for not referring certain types of bills to parliamentary committees.