The work done by the Parliament in modern times is not only varied in nature, but considerable in volume. The time at its disposal is limited. It cannot, therefore, give close consideration to all the legislative and other matters that come up before it. A good deal of its business is, therefore, transacted by what are called the Parliamentary Committees.
Ad hoc and Standing Committees
Parliamentary Committees are of two kinds: Ad hoc Committees and the Standing Committees. Ad hoc Committees are appointed for a specific purpose and they cease to exist when they finish the task assigned to them and submit a report. The principal Ad hoc Committees are the Select and Joint Committees on Bills. Others like the Railway Convention Committee, the Committees on the Draft Five Year Plans and the Hindi Equivalents Committee were appointed for specific purposes. Apart from the Ad-hoc Committees, each House of Parliament has Standing Committees like the Business Advisory Committee, the Committee on Petitions, the Committee of Privileges and the Rules Committee, etc.
Of special importance is yet another class of Committees which act as Parliament’s ‘Watch Dogs’ over the executive. These are the Committees on Subordinate Legislation, the Committee on Government Assurances, the Committee on Estimates, the Committee on Public Accounts and the Committee on Public Undertakings and Departmentally Related Standing Committees (DRSCs). The Committee on Estimates, the Committee on Public Accounts, the Committee on Public Undertakings and DRSCs play an important role in exercising a check over governmental expenditure and Policy formulation.
COMPOSITION AND FUNCTIONS OF THE COMMITTEES
Select and Joint Committees
When a Bill comes up before a House for general discussion, it is open to that House to refer it to a Select Committee of the House or a Joint Committee of the two Houses. A motion has to be moved and adopted to this effect in the House in which the Bill comes up for consideration. In case the motion adopted is for reference of the Bill to a Joint Committee, the decision is conveyed to the other House requesting them to nominate members of the other House to serve on the Committee. The Select or Joint Committee considers the Bill clause by clause just as the two Houses do. Amendments can be moved to various clauses by members of the Committee. The Committee can also take evidence of associations, public bodies or experts who are interested in the Bill. After the Bill has thus been considered the Committee submits its report to the House. Members who do not agree with the majority report may append their minutes of dissent to the report.
Committee on Estimates
This Committee consists of 30 members who are elected by the Lok Sabha every year from amongst its members. A Minister is not eligible for election to this Committee. The term of the Committee is one year. The main function of the Committee on Estimates is to report what economies, improvements in organisation, efficiency, or administrative reform, consistent with the policy underlying the estimates may be effected and to suggest alternative policies in order to bring about efficiency and economy in administration. From time to time the Committee selects such of the estimates pertaining to a Ministry or a group of Ministries or the statutory and other Government bodies as may seem fit to the Committee. The Committee also examines matters of special interest which may arise or come to light in the course of its work or which are specifically referred to it by the House or the Speaker.
Committee on Public Undertakings
The Committee on Public Undertakings consists of 15 members elected by the Lok Sabha and 7 members of Rajya Sabha are associated with it. A Minister is not eligible for election to this Committee. The term of the Committee is one year.
The functions of the Committee on Public Undertakings are—(a) to examine the reports and accounts of Public Undertakings; (b) to examine the reports, if any, of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the Public Undertakings; (c) to examine in the context of the autonomy and efficiency of the Public Undertakings whether the affairs of the Public Undertakings are being managed in accordance with sound business principles and prudent commercial practices; and (d) such other functions vested in the Committee on Public Accounts and the Committee on Estimates in relation to the Public Undertakings as are not covered by clauses (a), (b) and (c) above and as may be allotted to the Committee by the Speaker from time to time. The Committee does not, however, examine matters of major Government policy and matters of day-to-day administration of the Undertakings.
Committee on Public Accounts
This Committee consists of 15 members elected by the Lok Sabha and 7 members of the Rajya Sabha are associated with it. A Minister is not eligible for election to this Committee. The term of the Committee is one year.
The main duty of the Committee is to ascertain whether the money granted by Parliament has been spent by Government “within the scope of the Demand”. The Appropriation Accounts of the Government of India and the Audit Reports presented by the Comptroller and Auditor General mainly form the basis for the examination of the Committee. Cases involving losses, nugatory expenditure and financial irregularities come in for severe criticism by the Committee. The Committee is not concerned with questions of policy. It is concerned only with the execution of the policy laid down by Parliament and its results.
Business Advisory Committee (Lok Sabha)
The Business Advisory Committee of Lok Sabha consists of 15 members including the Speaker who is the ex-officio Chairman. The members are nominated by the Speaker. Almost all sections of the House are represented on the Committee as per the respective strength of parties in the House. The function of the Committee is to recommend the time that should be allotted for the discussion of such Government legislative and other business as the Speaker, in consultation with the Leader of the House, may direct to be referred to the Committee. The Committee, on its own initiative, may also recommend to the Government to bring forward particular subjects for discussion in the House and recommend allocation of time for such discussions. The decisions reached by the Committee are always unanimous in character and representative of the collective view of the House. The Committee generally meets at the beginning of each Session and thereafter as and when necessary.
Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions (Lok Sabha)
This Committee consists of 15 members and the Deputy Speaker is its Chairman when nominated as a member of the Committee. The Committee is nominated by the Speaker. The functions of the Committee are to allot time to Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions, to examine Private Members’ Bills seeking to amend the Constitution before their introduction in Lok Sabha, to examine all Private Members’ Bills after they are introduced and before they are taken up for consideration in the House and to classify them according to their nature, urgency and importance into two categories namely, category A and category B and also to examine such Private Members’ Bills where the legislative competence of the House is challenged. The Committee, thus, performs the same function in relation to Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions as the Business Advisory Committee does in regard to Government Business. The Committee holds office for a term not exceeding one year.
Rules Committee (Lok Sabha)
The Rules Committee consists of 15 members including the Speaker who is the ex-officio Chairman of the Committee. The members are nominated by the Speaker. The Committee considers matters of procedure and conduct of business in the House and recommends any amendments or additions to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha that are considered necessary.
Committee of Privileges (Lok Sabha)
This Committee consists of 15 members nominated by the Speaker. The function is to examine every question involving breach of privilege of the House or of the members of any Committee thereof referred to it by the House or by the Speaker. It determines with reference to the facts of each case whether a breach of privilege is involved and makes suitable recommendations in its report.
Committee on Papers Laid on the Table (Lok Sabha)
This Committee consists of 15 members nominated by the Speaker. Its function is to examine all papers laid on the Table of the House by Ministers (other than those which fall within the purview of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation or any other Parliamentary Committee) and to report to the House—(a) whether there has been compliance of the provisions of the Constitution, Act, rule or regulation under which the paper has been laid, (b) whether there has been any unreasonable delay in laying the paper, (c) if there has been such delay, whether a statement explaining the reasons for delay has been laid on the Table of the House and whether those reasons are satisfactory, (d) whether both the Hindi and English versions of the paper have been laid on the Table, (e) whether a statement explaining the reasons for not laying the Hindi version has been given and whether such reasons are satisfactory, (f) such other functions in respect of the papers laid on the Table as may be assigned to it by the Speaker from time to time.
Committee on Petitions (Lok Sabha)
The Committee consists of 15 members nominated by the Speaker. A Minister is not nominated to this Committee. The function of the Committee is to consider and report on petitions presented to the House. Besides, it also considers representations from individuals and associations, etc. on subjects which are not covered by the rules relating to petitions and gives directions for their disposal.
Committee on Subordinate Legislation (Lok Sabha)
The Committee consists of 15 members nominated by the Speaker. A Minister is not nominated to this Committee. The Committee scrutinizes and reports to the House whether the powers to make regulations, rules, sub-rules, by-laws etc. conferred by the Constitution or delegated by Parliament are being properly exercised by the executive within the scope of such delegation.
Committee on Government Assurances (Lok Sabha)
This Committee consists of 15 members nominated by the Speaker. A Minister is not nominated to this Committee. While replying to questions in the House or during discussions on Bills, Resolutions, Motions etc., Ministers at times give assurances or undertakings either to consider a matter or to take action or to furnish the House further information later. The functions of this Committee are to scrutinize the assurances, promises, undertakings etc. given by Ministers from time to time and to report to Lok Sabha on the extent to which such assurances etc. have been implemented and to see whether such implementation has taken place within the minimum time necessary for the purpose.
Committee on Absence of Members from the Sittings of the House (Lok Sabha)
The Committee consists of 15 members who hold office for one year. The members are nominated by the Speaker. This Committee considers all applications from members for leave of absence from the sittings of the House and examines every case where a member has been absent for a period of 60 days or more, without permission, from the sittings of the House. In its report it makes recommendations with respect to each case as to whether the absence should be condoned or leave applied granted or whether the circumstances of the case justify that the House should declare the seat of the member vacant.
Joint Committee on Offices of Profit
This Committee consists of 15 members. Ten members are elected from Lok Sabha and five from Rajya Sabha. The Committee is constituted for the duration of each Lok Sabha.
The main functions of the Committee are to examine the composition and character of the Committees appointed by the Central and State Governments and to recommend what offices should disqualify and what offices should not disqualify a person for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament under article 102 of the Constitution.
Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
The Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes consists of 20 members elected by the Lok Sabha and 10 members of Rajya Sabha are associated with it. The term of the Committee is one year. A Minister is not eligible for election to this Committee. The main functions of the Committee are to consider all matters concerning the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, falling within the purview of the Union Government and the Union Territories, to consider the reports submitted by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and to examine the measures taken by the Union Government to secure due representation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in services and posts under its control.
Railway Convention Committee
The Railway Convention Committee is an ad-hoc Committee. It consists of 18 members. Out of these, 12 members are from Lok Sabha nominated by the Speaker and 6 members are from Rajya Sabha nominated by the Chairman. By convention the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Railways are members of the Committee. Besides this, Ministers of State in the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Railways respectively are also its members.
The main function of the Committee is to review the Rate of Dividend payable by the Railways undertaking to General Revenues as well as other ancillary matters in connection with the Railway Finance vis-a-vis the General Finance and make recommendations thereon. The Railway Convention Committee, 1949 was the first Committee after independence. This Committee and subsequent Committees confined themselves to determining the rate of dividend payable by Railways to General Revenues. Since 1971 the Railway Convention Committees have been taking up subjects for examination and report which have a bearing on the working of Railways.
Committee on Empowerment of Women
This Committee came into being on 29th April, 1997, as a consequence of identical Resolutions adopted by both the Houses of Parliament on the occasion of International Women’s’ Day on 8th March, 1996. The Committee consists of 30 members, 20 nominated by the Speaker from amongst the members of Lok Sabha and 10 nominated by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha from amongst the members of the Rajya Sabha. The term of the Committee is of one year. The Committee have been primarily mandated with the taskof reviewing and monitoring the measures taken by the Union Government in the direction of securing for women equality, status and dignity in all matters. The Committee would also suggest necessary correctives for improving the status/condition of women in respect of matters within the purview of the Union Government. Besides, another important function of the Committee is to examine the measures taken by the Union Government for comprehensive education and adequate representation of women in Legislative bodies/services and other fields. The Committee would also consider the report of the National Commission for Women. The Committee may also examine such other matters as may seem fit to them or are specifically referred to them by the Lok Sabha or the Speaker and the Rajya Sabha or the Chairman, Rajya Sabha.
Departmentally Related Standing Committees
A full-fledged system of 17 Departmentally Related Standing Committees came into being in April, 1993. These Committees cover under their jurisdiction all the Ministries/ Departments of the Government of India. These Committees are as under :
Name of the Committee
1. Committee on Commerce
2. Committee on Home Affairs
3. Committee on Human Resource Development
4. Committee on Industry
5. Committee on Science & Technology,
Environment & Forests
6. Committee on Transport, Culture and Tourism
7. Committee on Agriculture
8. Committee on Information Technology
9. Committee on Defence
10. Committee on Energy
11. Committee on External Affairs
12. Committee on Finance
13. Committee on Food, Civil Supplies and
14. Committee on Labour and Welfare
15. Committee on Petroleum & Chemicals
16. Committee on Railways
17. Committee on Urban and Rural Development
Out of the 17 Committees, 6 Committees (Sl. No. 1 to 6) are serviced by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat and 11 Committees (Sl. No. 7 to 17) by the Lok Sabha Secretariat.
Each of these Standing Committees consists of not more than 45 members—30 to be nominated by the Speaker from amongst the members of Lok Sabha and 15 to be nominated by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha from amongst the members of Rajya Sabha. A Minister is not eligible to be nominated to these Committees.
The term of members of these Committees is one year. With reference to the Ministries/Departments under their purview, the functions of these committees are:
(a) Consideration of Demands for Grants.
(b) Examination of Bills referred to by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha as the case may be.
(c) Consideration of Annual Reports.
(d) Consideration of national basic long term policy documents presented to the House and referred to the Committee by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha, as the case may be. These Committees do not consider matters of day-to-day administration of the concerned Ministries/Departments.
The newly constituted departmentally related Standing Committee System is a path-breaking endeavour of the Parliamentary surveillance over administration. With the emphasis of their functioning to concentrate on long-term plans, policies and the philosophies guiding the working of the Executive, these Committees will be in a very privileged position to provide necessary direction, guidance and inputs for broad policy formulations and in achievement of the long-term national perspective by the Executive.
(References: Press release by GOI, PTI , Ministry of Parliamentary affairs)