Recently, four MPs have complained, that their names had been included in a proposed Select Committee for the Delhi Services Bill without their consentin the House.
So, let us look at the role of committees formed in Parliament and their structure.
About Parliamentary Committees:
India’s Parliament has several types of committees which discharge different functions.
There are broadly two types of committees in the Parliament namely;
There are 12 Standing Committees that are permanent in nature, with their members nominated from time to time by the Chairman.
Standing Committees can be classified into the following six categories:
Departmental Standing Committees
Committees to Enquire
Committees to Scrutinise and Control
Committees Relating to the Day-to-Day Business of the House
House-Keeping Committees or Service Committees
Then there are ad hoc or temporary committees, which are set up for a specific purpose, such as examining a particular Bill, and are dissolved once that purpose has been served.
They are further subdivided into Inquiry Committees and Advisory Committees.
The principal Ad hoc Committees are the Select and Joint Committees on Bills.
Parliamentary Committees draw their authority from Article 105 and Article 118.
Article 105 deals with the privileges of MPs.
Article 118 gives Parliament authority to make rules to regulate its procedure and conduct of business.
What is a Select Committee?
A Select Committee belongs to temporary committee. However, the procedure it requires to follow is laid down in the Rules of Procedure.
Under Rule 125 of the Rajya Sabha Rules and Procedures, any member may move an amendment that a Bill be referred to a Select Committee.
According to the Rajya Sabha rules, The Select/Joint Committees on Bills are constituted by the House(s) on specific motion moved by the Minister in-charge of the Bill or any member and adopted by the House to consider and report on Bills as referred to them from time to time.
Functions: The Committee’s role is to go through the text of the Bill, clause by clause, in order to see that the Bill “reflects clearly the intention behind the measure and the object proposed to be achieved is adequately brought out”.
A Joint Committee within the select committee has members from bothLok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
The motion to refer a Bill to a Select Committee can either be moved by the member in-charge of the Bill, or by any other MP.
How are a Select Committee’s members selected?
According to the Rajya Sabha rules, Bills are from time to time referred to Select Committees, the members on which are specifically named in the motion.
The members of the Select Committee on a Bill are appointed by the House when the motion that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee is made.
No member is appointed to a Select Committee if he is not willing to serve on the Committee.
The mover has to ascertain whether the member proposed by him is willing to serve on the Committee.
The actual number of membership of the Select Committee is not fixed; it varies from Committee to Committee.
If it is a Joint Committee, the proportion of members from the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha is 1:2.
The Chairman of the Committee is appointed by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha from among the members of the Committee.
The member or Minister in-charge of the Bill is generally included as a member of the Committee.
Significance of Parliamentary Committees:
Provides Legislative Expertise: Most MPs are not subject matter experts on the topics being discussed — they are generalists who understand the pulse of the people but rely on advice from experts and stakeholders before making decisions.
Parliamentary committees are meant to help MPs seek expertise and give them time to think about issues in detail.
Acting as a Mini-Parliament: These committees act as a mini-parliament, as they have MPs representing different parties are elected into them through a system of the single transferable vote, in roughly the same proportion as their strength in Parliament.
Instrument for Detailed Scrutiny: When bills are referred to these committees, they are examined closely and inputs are sought from various external stakeholders, including the public.
Provides a Check on the Government: Although committee recommendations are not binding on the government, their reports create a public record of the consultations that took place and put pressure on the government to reconsider its stand on debatable provisions.
By virtue of being closed-door and away from the public eye, discussions in committee meetings are also more collaborative, with MPs feeling less pressured to posture for media galleries.
Why is the sidelining of the Parliamentary Committees an issue?
Weakening of Parliamentary System Government: A parliamentary democracy works on the doctrine of fusion of powers between parliament and the executive, but the Parliament is supposed to maintain oversight of the government and keep its power in check.
Thus, by circumventing the Parliamentary committees in the passing of significant legislation, there is a risk of weakening democracy.
Enforcing Brute Majority: In the Indian system, it is not mandatory for bills to be sent to committees. It’s left to the discretion of the Chair — the Speaker in the Lok Sabha and Chairperson in the Rajya Sabha.
By giving discretionary power to the Chair, the system has been specially rendered weak in a Lok Sabha where the ruling party has a brute majority.