Extension of Tenure of Standing Committees | 05 Sep 2020

Why in News

The Rajya Sabha Secretariat is considering changing the rules governing the Departmentally-Related Standing Committees’ (DRSC) tenure to make it to two years from the present one year so that the panels have enough time to work on the subjects selected by them.

Key Points

  • Reason for Extension: The tenure of all the DRSCs of Parliament is ending on 11th September, 2020 and they can’t hold deliberations till new panels are formed.
    • A significant amount of the tenure of the committees was lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
    • Many of the panels have not been able to complete reports on the subjects they were working on. For example, the Information Technology panel could not complete deliberations on “Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space”, for which it summoned Facebook recently.
  • Options Being Considered:
    • To extend the term of the panels for a year.
    • To form new committees with a fixed tenure of two years.
  • Origin: On the recommendation of the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha, 17 DRSCs were set up in the Parliament in 1993. In 2004, seven more such committees were set up, thus increasing their number from 17 to 24.
  • Departmental Standing Committees: Out of the 24 standing committees, 8 work under the Rajya Sabha and 16 under the Lok Sabha.
  • Members: Each standing committee consists of 31 members (21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha). The members of the Lok Sabha are nominated by the Speaker, just as the members of the Rajya Sabha are nominated by the Chairman from amongst its members
    • A minister is not eligible to be nominated as a member of any of the standing committees. In case a member, after his nomination to any of the standing committees, is appointed a minister, he then ceases to be a member of the committee
  • Tenure: The term of office of each standing committee is one year from the date of its constitution.
  • Role:
    • They secure more accountability of the Executive (i.e., the Council of Ministers) to the Parliament. Through Committees, Parliament exercises its control and influence over administration and keeps vigilance over the executive.
    • The Committees aid and assist the Legislature in discharging its duties and regulating its functions effectively, expeditiously and efficiently. They assist the Parliament in thoroughly and systematically scrutinising the matters which could not be discussed on the floor at length.
    • The Committees also provide the expertise on a matter which is referred to them.
  • New Draft Guidelines: Recently, Rajya Sabha secretariat prepared new draft guidelines for its standing committees. The guidelines are still under review by the Lok Sabha Speaker. This may include:
    • A minimum 15 days’ notice and confirmation by one-third of the members before holding a panel meeting.
    • Nomination of members based on their qualifications, interests and occupations.
    • At least 50% attendance while collecting evidence and adopting reports.

Parliamentary Committees

  • The Constitution of India makes a mention of these committees at different places, but without making any specific provisions regarding their composition, tenure, functions, etc.
  • Broadly, parliamentary committees are of two kinds—Standing Committees and Ad Hoc Committees.
  • Standing Committees : Permanent (constituted every year or periodically) and work on a continuous basis. They can be categorized into following broad groups
    • Financial Committees
    • Departmental Standing Committees (24)
    • Committees to Inquire
    • Committees to Scrutinise and Control
    • Committees Relating to the Day-to-Day Business of the House
    • House-Keeping Committees or Service Committees
  • Ad Hoc Committees: Temporary and cease to exist on completion of the task assigned.
    • Ad hoc committees can be divided into two categories, that is, Inquiry Committee and Advisory Committee.
    • Examples of Ad Hoc Committees: Joint Committee on Bofors Contract, Joint Committee on Fertilizer Pricing etc.

Way Forward

  • The sittings of Parliament are steadily declining over the years. From 100-150 sittings in the 1950s, the number is down to 60-70 sittings per year in 2019-20. In such a scenario, a major part of parliamentary work is done by DRSCs. A longer tenure will help in completion of tasks and deliberations assigned to them.
  • However, there is a need for a number of other parliamentary reforms. It has been seen that the majority of the bills were passed by the Parliament through a voice vote, without much debating and without referring them to the parliamentary committees. For example, RTI Amendment Act (2019), UAPA Amendment Act (2019) - which have huge implications on civil liberties, were passed without referring them to the Parliamentary committee.

Source: TH