Parliamentary Standing Committees Need To Be More Efficient

During the meeting of chairpersons of parliamentary committees with Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, the proposition was tabled that MPs should lose their seats on such department-related standing committees if they are persistently absent from such meetings.

What are “standing committees”?

A standing committee is a committee, constituted by members of the parliament, either permanent and regular or constituted from time to time of specific matters. The draw their authority from Article 105 (on privileges of parliament members) and Article 118 (on parliament’s authority to make rules regarding its procedure and conduct of business).

What are the different types of committees?

Most committees are ‘standing’ i.e. their existence is uninterrupted and they are reconstituted annually. There are also ‘select’ committees constituted towards a specific purpose. Once the matter is dealt with, these committees may cease to exist. There are also departmental standing committees. There are three financial committees of the utmost importance – Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings.

Why are these committees needed?

Committees are an instrument of the Parliament for effective functioning. They provide a platform for discussion of a proposed law. A group of lawmakers, representing the proportional strength of their political parties and states, together can have a far more open, intense and better-informed discussion than a full-fledged parliamentary hearing. These committees are closed doors, and the members have to obligation to abide by a party whip. This allows for open discussions and integration of ideas across party borders. Testimonials from experts on the field can be included which makes for more efficient lawmaking. Finally, it enables the parliament to better understand its executive functions.

What is the problem?

Inefficiency has become a glaring problem with most committees now. Unless they are on matters that are in a national focus, very little gets done. Lawmakers often allow political colors to delay workings or even just fail to appear at crucial meetings. All this is leading to a limbo of the lawmaking machinery that is the parliament.

Way Forward

India is a parliamentary democracy. It is the engine that runs the country and cannot be idle. These committees must be efficient for the parliament to function. There are a few ways to increase efficiency. Lawmaking requires hard facts and data on the matter at hand. A lot of these committees lack research support. Adding sector-specific research staff to provide those data will speed up the process considerably. The national commission to review the working of the Constitution has also recommended the addition of such staff. Mandatory scrutiny of bills presented to the parliament will also add another feather to the caps of these committees. They are integral to the working of India. Let us not let them rot.


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