Insights into Editorial: Way Of The Parliament Committees + MINDMAPS on Issues
27 November 2015
To address various challenges faced by the parliament, departmentally related parliamentary standing committees were set up in 1993 in India. Currently, there are 24 such committees, organized on the lines of departments and ministries.
- As a legislative and oversight institution, technical and complex policy matters come up before Parliament. But, parliament meets for a limited number of days in a year. Due to paucity of time, it is not possible to carry out detailed scrutiny of all issues.
- Thus, parliamentary standing committees, composed of smaller groups of MPs meet regularly to undertake detailed consideration of policy issues outside the House.
What these committees do?
- Support Parliament’s work.
- Examine ministerial budgets, consider Demands for Grants, analyse legislation and scrutinise the government’s working.
- Examine Bills referred to by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha.
- Consideration of Annual Reports.
- Consideration of national basic long term policy documents presented to the House and referred to the Committee by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha.
Advantages of having such committees:
- The deliberations and scrutiny by committees ensure that Parliament is able to fulfil some of its constitutional obligations in a politically charged environment.
- They also help in obtaining public feedback and building political consensus on contentious issues.
- They help develop expertise in subjects, and enable consultation with independent experts and stakeholders.
- The committees perform their functions without the cloud of political positioning and populist opinion.
- These committees allow the views of diverse stakeholders.
- They function through the year.
- They also offer an opportunity for detailed scrutiny of bills being piloted by the government.
- They increase the efficiency and expertise of Parliament.
- Their reports allow for informed debate in Parliament.
How can these committees be made more effective?
- Parliamentary committees don’t have dedicated subject-wise research support available. The knowledge gap is partially bridged by expert testimony from government and other stakeholders. Their work could be made more effective if the committees had full-time, sector-specific research staff.
- The national commission to review the working of the Constitution has recommended that in order to strengthen the committee system, research support should be made available to them.
- Currently, the rules of Parliament don’t require every bill to be referred to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny. While this allows the government greater flexibility and the ability to speed up legislative business, it comes at the cost of ineffective scrutiny by the highest law-making body. Mandatory scrutiny of all bills by parliamentary committees would ensure better planning of legislative business.
In 2002, the national commission to review the working of the Constitution (NCRWC) pointed out some shortcomings of the committees:
- Low attendance of MPs at meetings.
- Too many ministries under a committee.
- Norms not followed by most political parties while nominating MPs to committees.
- The constitution of these committees for a year leaves very little time for specializations.
Recommendations of NCRWC:
- Committees should be periodically reviewed. All Bills should be referred to these committees. They can elicit public views and call specialist advisors.
- Major reports of all Committees should be discussed in Parliament especially in cases where there is disagreement between a Committee and the government.
Strengthening the work of these committees is important and, currently, critical. Their strength lies in the depth and rigour of their reports. If these committees work effectively, they can keep a close watch on government functioning.
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