Parliamentary Committees

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    In News

    • Recently, a series of recommendations were given by the Ramacharyulu committee that studied the working of the Rajya Sabha secretariat and other procedural issues. 
      • This is the first-ever comprehensive study of the Rajya Sabha secretariat. 

    Key recommendations

    • Parliamentary Standing Committees:
      • A dedicated hour in Rajya Sabha:
        • The panel suggested that there should be a dedicated hour during the Rajya Sabha proceedings to discuss the “import and implications” of the reports finalised by Parliamentary Standing Committees.
      • Tenure of Parliamentary committees:
        • It also suggested that the tenure of the Parliamentary committees should be increased from present one year to two years. 
      • Field visits:
        • The field visits of committees should also be increased from present two visits for a maximum of ten days in a year to three visits and fifteen days.
      • Accessibility of the reports:
        • The panel said that these reports should be made more accessible to the stakeholders and general public.
        • Amid complaints that the media do not cover Standing Committee reports adequately, it is suggested that panel chairpersons hold press conferences.
        • A standard structure of the report has also been suggested for easy understanding. 
    • Secretarial work:
      • The study has suggested streamlining the secretarial work, including disposing of 75% of the issues at the lower and middle levels in a ten-layer hierarchy that exists in the secretariat at present. 
        • The Rajya Sabha secretariat, which in 1952 had started out with 200 officers and staff, has 1,700 personnel at present.
      • The panel has demanded a makeover for quick decision-making and delivery of services in a transparent, monitorable and accountable manner.
    • Financial Power:
      • The financial power of divisional heads, who hold the rank of Joint Secretary, has been recommended to be increased from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh with the corresponding increase at the lower levels.

    Parliamentary Committees

    • In a parliamentary democracy, Parliament has broadly two functions, which are: 
      • Lawmaking and 
      • Oversight of the executive branch of the government. 
    • Committees are an instrument of Parliament for its own effective functioning.
    • Constitutional provisions:
      • Parliamentary committees draw their authority from: 
        • Article 105 (on privileges of Parliament members) and 
        • Article 118 (on Parliament’s authority to make rules for regulating its procedure and conduct of business). 
      • The Constitution of India makes a mention of these committees at different places, but without making any specific provisions regarding their composition, tenure, functions, etc. 
      • All these matters are dealt by the rules of the two Houses. 
    • Accordingly, a parliamentary committee means 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
      • Has a secretariat provided by the Lok Sabha / Rajya Sabha
    • Types of parliamentary committees:
      • Broadly, parliamentary committees are of two kinds:
        • Standing Committees – They are permanent (constituted every year or periodically) and work on a continuous basis.
        • Ad Hoc Committees – They are temporary and cease to exist on completion of the task assigned to them. For instance, to deliberate on a particular bill.
      • The chairman/speaker uses his/her discretion to refer a matter to a parliamentary committee but this is usually done in consultation with leaders of parties in the House.
    • Committee reports and recommendations:
      • Committee reports are usually exhaustive and provide authentic information on matters related to governance. 
      • Bills that are referred to committees are returned to the House with significant value addition. 
      • Parliament is not bound by the recommendations of committees.

    Significance of Parliamentary Committees

    • Ease of legislative business:
      • Given the volume of legislative business, discussing all Bills under the consideration of Parliament in detail on the floor of the House is impossible. 
      • Committees are platforms for threadbare discussion on a proposed law.
    • Independent of party politics:
      • Committee meetings are ‘closed door’ and members are not bound by party whips, which allows them the latitude for a more meaningful exchange of views as against discussions in full and open Houses were grandstanding and party positions invariably take precedence.
    • Provision of expertise:
      • While lawmaking gets increasingly complex and newer forms of technology getting introduced, lawmakers cannot infinitely expand their knowledge into ever-expanding areas of human activities.
      • It is through committees that such expertise is drawn into lawmaking.

    Challenges

    • Referring bill to the committee:
      • Currently, it is not mandatory to refer a Bill to a Committee. 
      • In some Parliamentary systems like the UK, all Bills other than Money Bills are automatically referred to Committees. 
      • However, in India, it depends on the decision of the Speaker or Chairman, in consultation with the Minister putting forth the Bill, whether a Bill should be referred to a Committee. 
    • Attendance of members:
      • On average only 49% of members were present for meetings of these Committees between the period 2009-2014.
      • Parliamentary Committees hold several meetings to conduct an in-depth analysis of various issues through extensive deliberations among Members. 
      • The success of the Committee system depends on the participation of Members in these meetings. 

    Way Ahead

    • Strengthening the role of Parliamentary committees along with the better implementation of given panel recommendations is the way forward to strengthening the democratic functioning of the legislature.

    Source: TH