Select committees and other parliamentary panels: role, limitations

Parliamentary Committees

Approx Read Time: 5 min
Parliamentary Committees
Parliamentary Committees

In News:

  • On Sunday, the government pushed through two crucial agriculture Bills in Rajya Sabha.
  • During the passage of bills, the government rejected Opposition demands that they be referred to a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha.
  • Proceedings were disrupted as the Opposition protested against the fact that neither Bill had been scrutinised by a parliamentary committee.

Ways of Parliamentary Scrutiny:

  • Parliament scrutinises legislative proposals (Bills) in two ways.
  • Through Parliamentary Debates and Deliberations
    • The first is by discussing it on the floor of the two Houses.
    • This is a legislative requirement as all Bills have to be taken up for debate.
    • The time spent debating the bills can vary.
    • They can be passed in a matter of minutes, or debate and voting on them can run late into the night.
    • Limitations of Debates:
      • Since Parliament meets for 70 to 80 days in a year, there is not enough time to discuss every Bill in detail on the floor of the House.
      • Plus debate in the house is mostly political and does not go into the technical details of a legislative proposal.
    • By Referring to Parliamentary Committees
      • The second mechanism is by referring a Bill to a parliamentary committee.
      • It takes care of the legislative infirmity of debate on the floor of the House.
      • But referring of Bills to parliamentary committees is not mandatory.
Referral of Bills to Committees in Numbers:
  • In the current Lok Sabha, 17 Bills have been referred to committees.
  • In the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19), 25% of the Bills were referred to committees, which was much lower than the 71% and 60% in the 15th and 14th Lok Sabha respectively.

About: Parliamentary Committees

  • Parliamentary committees are essentially miniature Parliaments in themselves, usually comprising members across party lines from both the Houses. 
  • Provisions in Constitution:
    • 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).

Classification of Parliamentary Committees:

  • India’s Parliament has multiple types of committees.
  • They can be differentiated on the basis of their work, their membership and the length of their tenure. 
Classification based on nature of work:
  • Ad hoc Committees
    • Ad hoc committees are appointed for a specific purpose such as addressing administrative issues or the examination of a bill or inquiry into, and exist only until this purpose is fulfilled.
    • The Adhoc Committees can be of following types-
      1. Joint Parliamentary Committees
      2. Select Committees
    • Standing Committees
      • Standing committees are more permanent in nature, and are constituted from time to time in pursuance of the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha. 
      • The standing committees are further divided into two types-
        • Financial Committees
          • They facilitate in Parliament’s scrutiny over government expenditure. 
          • Financial committees are of three kinds-
            1. Estimates committee
            2. Public accounts committee
            3. Committee on public undertakings
        • Departmentally Related Standing Committees

About: Departmentally Related Standing Committees (DRSCs)

  • Purpose
    • They examine bills, budgets and policies of ministries.
    • There are 24 such committees and between them, they focus on the working of different ministries.
    • Key committees like those related to Finance, Defence, Home etc are usually chaired by Opposition MPs.
  • Composition
    • Each committee has 31 MPs, 21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha.
    • Ministers are not members of DRSCs.
  • Tenure
    • DRSCs have a tenure of one year.
    • After that they are reconstituted and their work continues throughout the term of a Lok Sabha.

About: Joint Parliamentary Committees (JPCs)

  • Purpose
    • These are committees constituted for a specific purpose, with MPs from both Houses.
    • The specific purpose could be detailed scrutiny of a subject matter or a Bill.
    • As they are constituted for a specific purpose, they are disbanded after their reports.
    • Joint Parliamentary Committees are chaired by MPs from the ruling party.
  • Examples of JPCs
    • In 2011 the issue of telecom licences and spectrum was examined by a JPC.
    • In 2016, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was sent to a JPC.

About: Select Committees

  • Purpose
    • The Select Committee on a Bill is formed for examining a particular Bill.
    • Its membership is limited to MPs from one House.
    • Since Select Committees are constituted for a specific purpose, they are disbanded after their report.
    • Like JPCs, they are also chaired by MPs from the ruling party.
  • Examples of Select Committees
    • Last year Rajya Sabha referred the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 to a Select Committee of 23 of its MPs from different parties.

About: Examination of Bill by a Committee

  • Bills are not automatically sent to committees for examination.
  • There are three broad paths by which a Bill can reach a committee.
    • Recommendation by the Minister
      • The first is when the minister piloting the Bill recommends to the House that his Bill be examined by a Select Committee of the House or a joint committee of both Houses.
      • Last year Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad moved a motion in Lok Sabha referring the Personal Data Protection Bill to a Joint Committee.
    • Referral by the Presiding Officer
      • If the minister makes no such motion, it is up to the presiding officer of the House to decide whether to send a Bill to a Departmentally Related Standing Committee.
      • During the last Lok Sabha, the Chairman of Rajya Sabha had sent eight Bills to DRSCs.
    • Referral by the Other House
      • And finally, a Bill passed by one House can be sent by the other House to its Select Committee.
      • In 2011, the Lokpal Bill passed by Lok Sabha was sent by Rajya Sabha to its Select Committee.
      • In the last Lok Sabha, multiple Bills were sent to Rajya Sabha select committees.

Purpose of Sending a Bill to any Committee:

  • The main objective of sending any bill to a parliamentary committee is-
    • Detailed Examination of the Bill
      • The committee undertakes a detailed examination of the Bill.
      • It invites comments and suggestions from experts, stakeholders and citizens.
      • The government also appears before the committee to present its viewpoint.
      • All this results in a report that makes suggestions for strengthening the Bill.
      • While the committee is deliberating on a Bill, there is a pause in its legislative journey.
      • It can only progress in Parliament after the committee has submitted its report.

Reports by the Parliamentary Committees:

  • Duration
    • Usually, parliamentary committees are supposed to submit their reports in three months, but sometimes it can take longer.
  • Recommendatory Nature
    • The report of the committee is of a recommendatory nature.
    • The government can choose to accept or reject its recommendations.
    • Very often the government incorporates suggestions made by committees.
    • Select Committees and JPCs have an added advantage as they can also include their version of the Bill in their reports.
    • If they do so, the minister in charge of that particular Bill can move for the committee’s version of the Bill to be discussed and passed in the House.

Also Read: India’s new social security code proposes fund for gig workers

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