Headline : Why are parliamentary standing committees necessary?
Context of the topic:
- 11 of the 22 Bills introduced in the ongoing session of Parliament have been passed, which makes it a highly productive session after many years.
- However, these Bills have been passed without scrutiny by parliamentary standing committees (PSCs). They were only discussed in Parliament.
Theme of the topic:
- In the backdrop of a number of Bills having been passed without scrutiny, the topic analysis importance of parliamentary standing committees.
What are Parliamentary Committees?
- Committees are platforms for detailed discussion clause by clause on a proposed law.
- Committees are an instrument of Parliament for its effective functioning.
- A Parliamentary Committee means a committee that:
- Is appointed or elected by the house or nominated by the Speaker.
- Works under the direction of the Speaker/ Chairman.
- Presents its report to the House or to the Speaker/Chairman.
- Has a secretriat provided by the Lok Sabha/ Rajya Sabha.
- 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).
Origin of Parliamentary Committees:
- Parliamentary Committees has its origins in the British Parliament.
- The first Parliamentary Committee was constituted in 1571 in Britain.
- In India, the first Public Accounts Committee was constituted in 1950.
- Earlier, select committees or joint committees of the houses were only set up to scrutinise in detail some very important bills.
- Since the early 1990s, when the department-related standing committees were set up, it has been the practice to refer Bills to these respective department-related committees for a deep-dive discussion.
- Though the government is not obliged to accept the recommendations of the committees, these are given due consideration. The exercise makes for better legislation. Unfortunately, the standing committees have also often been used to delay Bills or meet political ends.
Types of Parliamentary Committees:
- Broadly, parliamentary committees are of two kinds:
- Standing Committees:
- These are permanent committees constituted every year or periodically and work on a continuous basis.
- The work of these Committees is of continuous nature.
- The Financial Committees, Departmentally Related Standing Committees (DRSCs) and some other Committees come under the category of Standing Committees.
- Financial control is a critical tool for Parliament’s authority over the executive; hence finance committees are considered to be particularly powerful. The three financial committees are the Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings.
- Ad Hoc Committees:
- These are temporary committees and cease to exist on completion of the task assigned to them.
- The principal Ad hoc Committees are the Select and Joint Committees on Bills.
- Standing Committees:
Who decides whether the bill will be referred to Standing committees and Ad Hoc Committees?
- The Speaker/ Chairman uses its discretion to refer a matter to a parliamentary committee but this is usually done in consultation with leaders of parties in the House.
Reports Submitted by the Committees:
- 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:
- Committee meetings are closed door and members are not bound by party whips, which allows them a more meaningful exchange of views as against discussions in full and open Houses where grandstanding and party positions invariably take precedence.
- There has been disruptive changes in technology and the expansion of trade, commerce and economy which throw up new policy challenges that require a constant reform of legal and institutional structures.
- While, lawmakers cannot infinitely expand their knowledge into ever expanding areas of human activities, but the laws and regulations that are required to govern a digital society needs highly specialised knowledge and political acumen.
- It is through committees that such expertise is drawn into lawmaking.
- Department standing committees get directions from senior officials of the government in a closed setting, allowing for more detailed discussions, which also enables parliamentarians to understand the executive processes closely.