General Studies Paper 2 (Indian Polity & Constitution)
Question:- 13. Explain the significance of the Parliamentary Committee System. Highlight the major issues associated with it. Answer in 150 words.
Jul 11, 2022
The visible part of Parliament’s work takes place on the floor of the House. Parliament meets for three sessions a year i.e., the Budget, Monsoon, and Winter Sessions. This part of Parliament’s work is televised and closely watched. However, Parliament has another forum through which a considerable amount of its work gets done. These are known as Parliamentary Committees. These Committees are smaller units of MPs from both Houses, across political parties and they function throughout the year. These smaller groups of MPs study and deliberate on a range of subject matters, Bills, and budgets of all the ministries.
(Italics is the information for your understanding- rest is what you must write)
The Parliament meets only for few days in a year – in the last 10 years, Parliament met for 67 days per year on average. This is a short of amount of time for MPs to be able to get into the depth of matters being discussed in the House. Since Committees meet throughout the year, they help make up for this lack of time available on the floor of the House.
Parliament deliberates on matters that are complex, and therefore needs technical expertise to understand such matters better. Committees help with this by providing a forum where Members can engage with domain experts and government officials during the course of their study.For example, the Committee on Health and Family Welfare studied the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 which prohibits commercial surrogacy, but allows altruistic surrogacy. The Committee called upon a range of stakeholders including the National Commission for Women, doctors, and government officials to better their understanding of the issues, before finalising their report.
Committees also provide a forum for building consensus across political parties.The proceedings of the House during sessions are televised, and MPs are likely to stick to their party positions on most matters. Committees have closed door meetings, which allows them to freely question and discuss issues and arrive at a consensus.
To ensure that a Bill is scrutinised properly before it is passed, our law making procedure has a provision for Bills to be referred to a DRSC for detailed examination. Any Bill introduced in Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha can be referred to a DRSC by either the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Over the years, the Committees have immensely contributed to strengthen the laws passed by Parliament.For example, the Consumer Protection Act, 2019,overhauling the 1986 law, was An earlier version of the Bill had been examined by the Committee on Food and Consumer Affairs, which suggested several amendments such as increasing penalties for misleading advertisements, making certain definitions clearer. The government accepted most of these recommendations and incorporated them in the 2019 Act.
Besides Bills, the DRSCs also examine the budget.The detailed estimates of expenditure of all ministries, called Demand for Grants are sent for examination to the DRCSs.They study the demands to examine the trends in allocations, spending by the ministries, utilisation levels, and the policy priorities of each ministry. However, only a limited proportion of the budget is usually discussed on the floor of the House.
Committees also examine policy issues in their respective Ministries, and make suggestions to the government. The government has to report back on whether these recommendations have been accepted or not. Based on this, the Committees then table an Action Taken Report, which shows status of the government’s action on each recommendation.
While Committees have substantially impacted Parliament’s efficacy in discharging its roles, there is still scope for strengthening the Committee system.
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. By giving discretionary power to the Chair, the system has been specially rendered weak in a Lok Sabha where the ruling party has a brute majority.
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.
The recommendations of these Committees are not binding.
ADDITIONAL INFO FROM CURRENT AFFAIRS: 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.
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.
It also suggested that the tenure of the Parliamentary committees should be increased from present one year to two years. 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.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. 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.
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.