Saturday, February 22, 2014

Parliamentary Committees in Indian Governance - Detailed Study

In the Indian Parliament, many committees are constituted from time to time which are comprised of the Members of Parliament hence are known as the Parliamentary Committees. These are constituted by Lok Sabha speaker and they get all secretarial and clerical assistance from the Secretariat of the Parliament. Chairpersons to these committees are nominated by the speaker from amongst the members and if Deputy Speaker happens to be a member of any committee than automatically he becomes Chairperson of the Committee. Members of the Committee are appointed on the basis of proportional representation which means that according to the strength of political parties in the Parliament their members are divided in such committees. Usually it is a tradition that Chairperson of more than half of the committees is given to the members of the opposition but Chairperson of Estimates Committee is always from the ruling party and the chairperson of Public Accounts Committee is always from opposition. Any minister can not be appointed in these Parliamentary Committees and if a member is inducted in the Council of Ministers then he has to resign from the Parliamentary Committee of which he is a member. In general, most of these Parliamentary Committees are constituted for a period of one year but in order to maintain continuity and uniformity of approach some members are appointed next year also if they still continue to remain the Member of Parliament.

Parliamentary Committees are mainly of two types -

1. Permanent Committees - These are those committees which always remain in existence, continue to do their assigned jobs, keep submitting their reports to the Parliament and only the members of these committees keep changing.

2. Adhoc Committees - Those which are dissolved after submitting reports.

Further, these Committees are of 2 types -

a. Joint Committees - Which is comprised of members of both the houses, Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha.

b. Select Committees - Which are comprised of experts of that subject or members from one House only.

It is also possible that a member of one Committee can be appointed in other committees as well. A few very important Permanent Committees are as under -

# DRSC - Departmentally Related Standing Committee
# FC - Finance Committee
# House Committee
# SC / ST Welfare Committee
# BAC - Business Advisory Committee
# Service Committee

Whereas Adhoc Committees can be of 2 types - 

a. Legislative Committee - Which is constituted to frame laws and after preparing draft proposals for bill these are dissolved.

b. Special Purpose Committee - Which are constituted to inquire and investigate into any particular matter.

Departmentally Standing Related Committees (DRSC)

In 1989, Departmentally Standing Related Committees were formed for the first time in India and impressed by their success, strength was continuously enhanced. At present they are 24 in number. In each of these Committees, there are 21 members from Lok Sabha and 10 members from Rajya Sabha, in all 31.

Earlier their strength was 45, 30 from Lok Sabha and 15 from Rajya Sabha.

Some important Departmentally Related Standing Committees are - 

1. Committee on Commerce
2. Home Affairs
3. HRD (Human Resource Development)
4. Industry
5. Science, Technology, Environment and Forests
6. Transport, tourism and culture
7. Health and Family Welfare
8. Personnel Governance
9. Committee on Agriculture
10. Committee on Information Technology
11. Defence
12. Energy
13. External Affairs
14. Finance
15. Food, Civil Supplies and Public Distribution
16. Labour
17. Petroleum and Natural Gas
18. Railways
19. Urban Development
20. Water Resources
21. Chemicals & Fertilizers
22. Rural Development
23. Coal and Steel
24. Social Justice and Women Empowerment

These Committees perform the following functions - 

1. To assist in the formulation of law related to their departments.

2. To help in the propagation of budget estimates - Hence in a way though in a limited manner these Committees have helped check unhealthy and undemocratic practice of Guillotine.

3. To suggest various improvements and reform in there offices and departments.

4. To inspect and make physical assessment as well as on spot verification of the ongoing various schemes of their department.

5. To investigate and inquire matters of complaint and financial irregularity.

6. Any other function as assigned by the speaker of Lok Sabha.

The other important Permanent Committees, their strength and tenure are as follows -

a. Business Advisory Committee - 15 members (Lok Sabha) - Not fixed
b. Committee on Breach of Privileges - 15 members (Lok Sabha) - Not fixed
c. Committee on absence of members from sittings of houses - 15 members (Lok Sabha) - 1 year
d. Committee on Women Empowerment - 30 members(20 Lok Sabha and 10 Rajya Sabha) - 1 year
e. Committee on Assurances - 15 members (Lok Sabha) - 1 year
f. Committee on papers laid in the house - 15 members (Lok Sabha) - 1 year
g. Petition Committee - 15 members (Lok Sabha) - Not Fixed
h. Committee on Private Member Bill - 15 members (Lok Sabha) - 1 year
i. Committee on Subordinate Legislation - 15 members (Lok Sabha) - 1 year
j. General Purpose Committee - Not Fixed - Not Fixed
k. House Committee - 12 members (Lok Sabha) - 1 year
l. Joint Committee on the office of profit - 15 members(10 Lok Sabha and 5 Rajya Sabha) - For the entire duration of Lok Sabha
m. Library Committee - 9 members(6 Lok Sabha and 3 Rajya Sabha) - 1 year
n. Rules Committee - 15 members (Lok Sabha) - Not Fixed
o. SC / ST Committee - 30 members(20 Lok Sabha and 10 Rajya Sabha) - Not Fixed

There are three important Finance Committees - 

a. Estimates Committee - It is comprised of 30 members all from Lok Sabha. This committee helps prepare estimates of budget and the budget is printed by the Government, that is why its Chairperson is always from ruling party so that head of income and expenditure in budget can be decided according to choices and preferences of ruling party. It is the largest Committee of Lok Sabha hence sometimes referred to as miniature Lok Sabha. One third of its members are retired from this committee every year hence 10 new members are inducted in there place. Consequently every member has a tenure of 3 years. It is an important financial committee which submits its report every year before the Parliament. Since it is related to budget which is a money bill hence it is tabled in Lok Sabha.

b. Public Accounts Committee - It conducts audit of the Government department of the ministries. It is comprised of 22 members, 15 from Lok Sabha and 7 from Rajya Sabha. In order to make audit more effective its Chairperson is always from opposition so that he may not be inclined towards the Government or make favour towards the Government or make favour towards offices and departments of Government of India. Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAGI) provides all assistance to Public Accounts Committee. Hence CAGI is referred to as philosopher and guide of Public Accounts Committee.

c. Committee on Public Undertakings - In the first Lok Sabha, eminent and renowned legislator Mr. Sundaram raised this demand that considering large capital expenditure by the Government in public enterprises, it has become desirable and essential that the Parliamentary control be exercised on such enterprises. As in the United Kingdom there is a select committee on nationalised industries in the British Parliament, such a committee should be constituted in India as well. Replying to his demand, Pandit Nehru as Prime Minister said that it is acceptable in principle and formed the committee under the Chairmanship of Krishna Menon so as to chop out modalities of such a Parliamentary Committee. On its recommendations on May 1st, 1964 on occasion of Labour Day, COPU was constituted. It is also comprised of 22 members, 15 from Lok Sabha and 7 from Rajya Sabha. It primarily supervises and inspects PSU's of the Government of India.

Critical Appraisal of the Committee System - 

Under Article 118(3) of the Constitution of India, Parliamentary Committees are constituted. Many experts of Public Administration severely criticize Committee system because they believe that -

1. Committee is comprised of the members of different political parties which are divided ideologically and on political vested interests. Hence it becomes very difficult to arrive at a consensus. In general it is also observed that not on the basis of subject matter but on political basis these committees function. Hence the primary focus is lost. Very unfortunate position is that due to political differences, committee members do not cooperate with each other and many times during debate and discussions in the committee not only use foul language and indulge in indecent behaviour but sometimes it also leads to manhandling.

2. Committee members are not specialists of related subjects hence they lack technical knowledge and skills. Mostly in there discussions and conclusions there is lack of seriousness and gravity. It is also observed that excessive time is consumed in order to reach the conclusion which leads to inordinate delay in effective actions and usually Government use committees as their protective shields.

3. It is also a part of the criticism that committees are constituted to divert attention of the people.

4. Many times parliamentary committees go for inspection and visits of ministries/departments where they keep looking for their welcome and hospitality. Many committee members expect for fringe benefits from met officials. If they are found wanting or not up to their expectations than they start finding flaws in the functioning of the offices/departments. Hence in such a situation, the critiques of Committee system say that the primary objective of Committee is not fact finding but fault finding. Hence committees are discouraging and demotivating for officials. Undoubtedly, these criticisms are true partially or substantially, yet there can not be any alternative to the Committee system because in the Parliamentary democratic system there must be control of people's representative on Public Administration and nothing can be more suitable than Parliamentary Committee. It establishes people's control indirectly so far as specialization is concerned, Committee have this right that they can consult experts of the subject. Together with this, due to political and ideological differences, multiple approaches, diversity of views - many solutions come to the surface which are able to identify all the dimensions of the problem.

Hence it is important to rectify the problems of the Committee system and not abolish the Committee system for which below steps could be taken - 

1. Model code of conduct should be framed for functioning of the committees.

2. Committee Chairperson should be given the right to take action against abusive and unparliamentary member.

3. Definite time limit should be decided within which they must submit there reports and in essential and rare conditions only, the time limit should be extended for which committee would have to explain reasons by point to point basis.

4. If committee presents some recommendations and Government is not willing to accept those and wants certain changes in it than it also must explain reasons and ground faults.

5. Reports of all the Committees must be tabled before the house so that open and extensive discussion may take place on that issue, so that a healthy and consensus based decision can be arrived at.

6. Such members should not be inducted in committee having charges related to corruption, financial misappropriation and criminal activities.

So at last in conclusion it can be said, as given by Gullick, Committees are bodies to be kicked not the soul to be damned.

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