Parliamentary Committees

Indian Parliamentary Committees

Parliamentary Committees assist the Houses of Parliament in the efficient discharge of their functions and in giving close consideration to legislative and other matters that come up before them. A good deal of parliamentary business is transacted in the Committees as the time at the disposal of the Houses is limited and insufficient to make a thorough and detailed examination of the varied and voluminous legislative and other work to be transacted in Parliament. Through the various parliamentary devices like questions and debates, it is not able to exercise more than a sporadic supervision of administration. In order to make parliamentary surveillance more effective and meaningful and ensure accountability of the Executive to Parliament, the role of Parliamentary Committees is vital. The review of administrative action and the examination of numerous and complicated legislative and budgetary proposals and subordinate legislation require expertise and close scrutiny which is not possible in the Houses of Parliament with the Lok Sabha consisting as it does of 545 members and Rajya Sabha of 245 members.

A Parliamentary Committee in Lok Sabha, by formal definition, means a Committee which is appointed or elected by the House in pursuance of a motion, or nominated by the Speaker and which works under the direction of the Speaker and presents its report to the House or to the Speaker and the Secretariat for which is provided by the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha Secretariat. But not every Committee consisting of members of Parliament is a Parliamentary Committee. There are other Committees consisting entirely of members of Parliament, e.g. Consultative Committees attached to various ministries and departments, but they are not Parliamentary Committees.

The origin of Committee system in India can be traced back to the first Legislatures after the advent of British rule in India under the Charter Act of 1853 and the Government of India Act, 1919.

After the Constitution came into force, the Committee system underwent transformation. Taking advantage of the past experience, an organised system of Committees was adopted by Lok Sabha right from its beginning in 1952. Not only did the number of Committees increase but their functions and powers were also enlarged. A full fledged Committee system in our Parliament got established with the setting up of 17 subject based/departmentally related Standing Committees to cover the entire gamut of Government activities. The initiative for setting up such Committees was taken during the eighth Lok Sabha period when three Committees on Science and Technology, Agriculture and Food, and Environment and Forests were set up. The seventeen new Committees were set up during the period of the Tenth Lok Sabha. [By the Fourteenth Lok Sabha the number of these Committees has risen to 24]. Also, among the more recent parliamentary committees are (i) the committee of the two houses called the Committee on the Empowerment of Women and (ii) the Lok Sabha Committee on Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme.

The composition of the Committees represents all sections of the House and shades of opinion. The different Parties and Groups are represented on the Committees in proportion to their respective strength in the House. As such, a Committee is a microcosm of the whole House. The proceedings in the Committees are less formal and the procedure is more flexible than in the House. Unlike in the House, a member can speak more than once in a Committee. This leads to more comprehensive and judicious consideration of the issues under consideration of the Committees. Moreover, the Committee system saves the time of the House for the discussion of important matters and prevents Parliament from getting lost in details and thereby losing hold on matters of policy and broad principles.

There are two types of Parliamentary Committees in India viz. (i) Standing Committees and (ii) Ad-hoc Committees.

Standing Committees are those which are constituted by the House or the Speaker every year or from time to time, as the case may be and are permanent in nature in the sense that they examine different issues and present their reports to the House or the Speaker from time to time during their term. Ad hoc Committees are appointed for a specific purpose and they become fund us offido as soon as they have completed the task assigned to them and presented their report.

Standing Committees may be categorised in terms of the nature of their functions as follows:
i. Financial Committees, e.g. Committee on Estimates, Committee on Public Accounts and Committee on Public Undertakings

ii. Subject Committees or Departmentally Related Standing Joint Committees of the two Houses

iii. House Committees, that is, Committees relating to the day to day business of the House, e.g. Committee on Absence of Members from the Sittings of the House, Business Advisory Committee, Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions and Rules Committee

iv. Enquiry Committees, e.g. Committee on Government Assurances, Committee on Subordinate Legislation, Committee on Papers Laid on the Table and Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

v. service Committee, e.g. General Purposes Committee, House Committees, Library Committee and Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament.

Ad hoc Committees may be broadly put into two categories:
i. Select or Joint Committees on Bills which are appointed to consider and report on particular Bills.

ii. Committees which are constituted from time to time to inquire into and report on specific matters. Thus Railway Convention Committee is an Ad hoc Committee which is appointed from time to time to examine the finances of the Railways and to review the rate of dividend which is payable by the Railway undertaking to the general revenues.

Members of Rajya Sabha are also associated with the Committee on Public Accounts, Committee on Public Undertakings, Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the departmentally related Committees.

In the case of Committee on Public Accounts, as per established convention, a member belonging to one of the major Opposition Parties/Groups is appointed Chairman of the Committee.

Sittings of Parliamentary Committees are held in private. It is not permissible for a member of the Committee or any one else who has access to the proceedings of the Committee, to communicate, directly or indirectly to the press any information regarding its proceedings etc. before its report has been presented to the House. There are no public hearings before the Committees and the press is not permitted.

The three Financial Committees play a crucial role in the task of a detailed scrutiny of governmental spending and performance, thereby securing the accountability of the administration to Parliament in financial matters. They are the watch dogs of Parliament. The accountability of the administration to the Parliament is not direct and is exercised through Ministers, but in the Committees, the civil servants come face to face with Committees when they are called for oral evidence and are subjected to extensive examination. The relentless crusade of the Financial Committees to this end keeps the administration on its toes. The elaborate procedure for follow-up of the recommendations of these Committees by way of ‘Action Taken Reports’ is essentially an Indian innovation.

In addition to the three Financial Committees, the subject-based, departmentally- related Committees embrace the entire spectrum of administration for in in-depth and continuous scrutiny of administrative performance and have strengthened the process of accountability and parliamentary surveillance.

The number of Departmentally Related Standing Committees has since gone up to 24. The changes have been as follows:
i. Committee on ‘Food, Civil Supplies and Public Distribution’ is renamed as the Committee on ‘Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution’,

ii. Committee on ‘Labour and Welfare’ is renamed as Committee on ‘Labour’ only.

iii. Committee on ‘Petroleum & Chemicals’ is renamed as Committee on ‘Petroleum and Natural Gas’.

iv. Committee on ‘Urban and Rural Development’ becomes a Committee on ‘Rural Development’ only.

v. Committee on ‘Transport and Tourism’ becomes a Committee on ‘Transport, Tourism and Culture’.

The seven new Committees created are: (a) Committee on Chemicals and Fertilisers; (b) Committee on Coal & Steel; (c) Committee on Water Resources; (d) Committee on Health and Family Welfare; (e) Committee on Personnel, public grievances, Law and Justice; (f) Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment; (g) Committee on Urban Development.

Source: Jupiter Informedia

Statutory Committee

The Statutory committees have been one of the auxiliary machineries established by the Government of India to aid and advise the Government on some particular issues which are granted to the specific committees. Nearly eight percent of the total numbers of advisory committees within the Central government are statutory committees which functions as the advisory council for various departments. These committees are established under the statutory enactments that ensure their permanence and independence. Largely deciding upon some less important matters these committees usually meet twice a year and conduct a meeting that lasts in a day.

Statutory Committees of India comprises of some important committees like the Central Advisory Council of Industries, Development Councils (17 in number), Company Law Advisory Commission, and Advisory Committee on Capital Issues, Minimum Wages Central Advisory Board, and Central Committee for Food Standards, Zonal Councils (five in number), etc. The Statutory committees are established under the Industrial Development and Regulation act,1951 and function under Central Advisory Council of Industries.

Statutory Committee while functioning also includes some standing committees which meet biennially and a number of sub committees which help them to function more accurately and faster. During its sessions these committees usually enter into debates in which all the parties get their fair chance to participate. While it has been blamed for loosing its touch with reality; these committees have been further blamed for lingering with some issues which are either irrelevant or invalid. As such the government has full rights to curtail the powers of these committees as it reduced some powers of Central Advisory council of Industries in 1951.

Thus the Statutory Committees which are formed by the Indian Parliament are mainly intended to reduce the burden of decision making on the central government which can share some of the less important decisions on these committees. These committees shall render decisions on behalf of the Government of India which will contain the same strength as a law of the nation.

Source: Jupiter Informedia

Advisory Committee

The Advisory Committees in India function as the advisory machinery to the Central Government at the national level. It is mainly formed by a group of non official members who do not directly earn payroll under the Government of India. In India the advisory committee which were established after independence included six types of advisory committees. These are the Representative advisory committees; Expert committees; Advisory committees for independent administration which is about 22 in number; Informal Consultative Committees of Parliament which includes 27 in number; six Advisory committees, one each for Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Manipur and Andaman and Nicobar Islands (the committees for Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Tripura and Manipur have since been abolished); and the Zonal councils which are five in number.

Advisory Committees which has been a post independent innovation in Indian administration is supposed to be responsible for collecting information and equipping the centre with latest information and relevant decisions. There had been nearly 518 advisory committees on the eve of independence which were established to advise the government. This can be largely categorised within six types which represent the democratic principles of the government. For instance the representative committee provides representation to various interest groups and enlists the participation of the affected people in the administrative process which broadens the democratic base of India. Similarly the government that regulates the entire life of its people must be equipped with all facts which are collected by these committees. While framing the policies a department must acquire all information regarding the reaction of those groups whose interests are affected. For such purpose the representative committees are the most appropriate committees which are supposed to be ready with the conventional institutional devises of mutual consultation, and little negotiation. They are supposed to act as a bridge between the government and the affected group of people. This defines the role of the advisory committees which are supposed to act as a mediator and seek every body’s cooperation while taking some decisions and make it successful.

Advisory Committees as such play a very significant role along with the legislative and executive in running the administration. These include group of experts with specialized qualifications, training and experience. As the modern day government is becoming increasingly technical and complex, it needs some scientific, technical and professional knowledge to make relevant decisions. The advisory committee with its experts also provides the government to furnish with the latest technical, scientific and professional knowledge that will help the government to compete with latest technical knowledge.

Thus the advisory committees in India remain significant as they provide the latest information to the government. They also function as a bridge between the policy makers and receivers of benefits.

Source: Jupiter Informedia

Committee on Public Undertakings

The Committee on Public Undertakings was established by the Government of India to expand the parliamentary control over public undertakings. This committee shall consist of fifteen members that would include ten members from Lok sabha and five from Rajya Sabha. The members are elected on the basis of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote. The Committee on Public Undertaking are supposed to perform certain functions that will establish their accountability within the parliament.

Functions of Committee on Public Undertakings

Committee on Public Undertakings performs certain functions. The committee shall examine the reports and accounts of enumerated public undertakings; it shall also review the reports of Comptroller and auditor general on public undertakings. In the context of autonomy and efficiency the committee shall further examine whether the affairs of public undertakings are being managed in accordance with sound business principles and prudent commercial practices. With this it shall also check other functions which are vested in Public accounts committee and the Estimates Committee in relation to the public undertakings which has been granted to the committee by the Speaker of the house. Along with this the committee is supposed to submit a fresh report to the parliament regarding the performance of public undertakings and their business efficiency.

Tenure of Committee on Public Undertakings

Committee on Public Undertakings usually provides tenure of five years. One- fifth of its members however retire due to rotation in every year. The members who retire by rotation include those members who have the longest tenure in the office since their last election.

Limitations of Committee on Public Undertakings

Committee on Public Undertakings has certain limitations. The committee cannot discuss matters of government policies as well as matters of day to day administration. Also it has no jurisdiction on the companies in which the government is the largest single share holder. As such the Committee on Public Undertakings has certain limitation which restricts its movement in calculating the actual progress of the public undertakings. Ideally it is not supposed to scrutinize the daily administration of a public undertaking which restricts the committee to reach to the main problem. The rights of the committee is often debated in the parliament which claims that it should also include the powers of Public accounts committee as well.

Committee on Public Undertakings with multi- unit companies

Committee on Public Undertakings did receive a boost by expanding its control on the multi- unit companies. The establishment of giant companies operating in different parts of the country gave rise to a number of problems in the field of management. This rings in the committee of public undertakings who is supposed to look into these problems and solve them for smooth functioning. As such with these giant entrepreneurs the responsibility of the committee also increased which now required greater government involvement. The multi- unit organisations came up with new patterns of administration that included divisional pattern as well as holding company structure with special importance to the board of directors. Overall this gave a new experience to the Committee of public undertakings which had to execute new methods to run a smooth administration.

Thus, the Committee of Public Undertakings play a very significant role in the Indian administration which functions just like a private sector along with public accountability.

Source: Jupiter Informedia

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