What is a Parliamentary Committee?
A Parliamentary Committee is a group of Members of Parliament (MPs) constituted through appointment, election by the House, or nomination by the Speaker/Chairman. Operating under the guidance of the Speaker/Chairman, these committees are responsible for presenting their reports to the House or the respective Speaker/Chairman.
The establishment of Parliamentary Committees finds its roots in the British Parliament. These committees derive their power and legitimacy from Article 105 and Article 118 of the Constitution.
Article 105 pertains to the privileges of MPs, while Article 118 empowers Parliament to create rules governing its procedures and the conduct of its affairs.
Classification of Parliamentary Committees
The Indian Parliament has several parliamentary committees that play a crucial role in the functioning of the government and the legislative process.
ON THE BASIS OF TENURE of the committee, these committees are categorized into two types:
- (1) Standing Committees: Standing Committees are permanent in nature, constituted every year or periodically and work on a continuous basis.
- (2) Ad Hoc Committees: Ad Hoc Committees are temporary and cease to exist on completion of the task assigned to them. Example: Joint Committee on Bofors Contract, Joint Committee on Fertilizer Pricing.
ON THE BASIS OF THE NATURE OF FUNCTIONS performed by them, standing committees can be classified into the following six categories:
- Committees to Scrutinise and Control
- Committees Relating to the Day-to-Day Business of the House
- House-Keeping Committees or Service Committees
- Financial Committees
- Departmental Standing Committees
- Committees to Inquire
Classification of Standing Committees
|Committees to Scrutinise and Control||
|Committees to Inquire||
|Committees to Scrutinise and Control||
|Committees Relating to the Day-to-Day Business of the House||
|House-Keeping Committees or Service Committees||
Significance of Parliamentary Committees
The Significance of Parliamentary Committees lies in their multifaceted roles and contributions to the legislative process:
- Expertise Facilitation: Given that most MPs are not subject matter experts on various topics, parliamentary committees serve as platforms for seeking expertise. They allow MPs to access advice from specialists and stakeholders, enabling them to make informed decisions on complex issues.
- Mini-Parliament Representation: Parliamentary committees act as microcosms of the larger Parliament. MPs from different political parties are elected into these committees through the single transferable vote system, reflecting their proportional representation in the Parliament.
- Detailed Scrutiny Mechanism: When bills are referred to these committees, they undergo meticulous examination. The committees actively seek inputs from external stakeholders, including the public, ensuring comprehensive scrutiny of proposed legislation.
- Check on the Government: While committee recommendations are not legally binding on the government, they hold significant weight as they create a public record of consultations and deliberations. This can exert pressure on the government to reconsider its stance on contentious provisions.
- Collaborative Environment: Committee meetings are conducted behind closed doors, away from the public eye. This fosters a more collaborative atmosphere where MPs feel less compelled to engage in posturing for media attention, leading to more focused and substantive discussions.
Some major parliamentary committees
- Public Accounts Committee (PAC): One of the oldest and most important committees, the PAC examines the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, which highlight financial irregularities and inefficiencies in government expenditure.
- Estimates Committee: This committee examines the government’s budgetary estimates, ensuring that the funds are allocated appropriately and efficiently.
- Committee on Public Undertakings (COPU): COPU examines the performance and functioning of various public sector undertakings (PSUs) to ensure accountability and transparency.
- Committee on Subordinate Legislation: This committee oversees the rules, regulations, and by-laws framed by the executive bodies, ensuring they conform to the intended purpose of the legislation.
- Committee on Government Assurances: It examines the assurances and promises made by the government to Parliament and verifies whether they have been fulfilled.
- Committee on Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes: This committee addresses matters concerning the welfare and development of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes communities.
- Committee on Empowerment of Women: It examines issues related to the empowerment, rights, and welfare of women in India.
- Committee on Urban Development: This committee deals with various aspects of urban development, including infrastructure, housing, and urban planning.
- Committee on Agriculture: It examines matters related to agriculture, rural development, and related policies.
- Committee on Home Affairs: This committee addresses matters related to the Ministry of Home Affairs, including internal security, law and order, and disaster management.
The issue with Parliamentary Committees
- Erosion of the Parliamentary System: In a parliamentary democracy, the fusion of powers between the legislature and the executive requires the Parliament to exercise oversight over the government and its actions. Bypassing the role of Parliamentary committees in the passage of important legislation risks weakening the democratic system’s checks and balances.
- Emphasis on Brute Majority: In the Indian system, sending bills to committees is not mandatory; it is at the discretion of the Chair, be it the Speaker in the Lok Sabha or the Chairperson in the Rajya Sabha. This discretionary power becomes particularly problematic in a Lok Sabha where the ruling party holds a strong and dominating majority.
The Way Forward
- Mandating scrutiny for significant bills is not a hindrance to the legislative process; instead, it is essential to uphold the quality of legislation and, by extension, the quality of governance. A robust parliamentary committee system is necessary to preserve the sanctity of Parliament’s role in the law-making process.