Parliamentary Committees – UPSC Notes – Indian Polity

The Parliament faces challenges in effectively deliberating on the diverse and voluminous issues it encounters due to its unwieldy nature. To address this, it relies on a system of committees to assist in its functions. While the Constitution of India acknowledges these committees, it does not specify their composition, tenure, or functions, leaving these matters to be governed by the rules of the respective Houses. Essentially, a parliamentary committee is one that is appointed, elected, or nominated by the House or its Speaker/Chairman, operates under their guidance, submits reports to the House or the Speaker/Chairman, and is supported by a secretariat provided by the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha. Notably, consultative committees, although comprising members of Parliament, do not meet all these criteria and thus are distinct from parliamentary committees.

Classification of Parliamentary Committees

Parliamentary committees are broadly categorized into two types—Standing Committees and Ad Hoc Committees. The former are permanent, either constituted annually or periodically, and operate continuously, while the latter are temporary and dissolve upon completing the assigned task.

Standing Committees

Based on their functions, standing committees can be further classified into the following six categories:

  1. Financial Committees
    • Public Accounts Committee
    • Estimates Committee
    • Committee on Public Undertakings
  2. Departmental Standing Committees (24 in total)
  3. Committees to Inquire
    • Committee on Petitions
    • Committee of Privileges
    • Ethics Committee
  4. Committees to Scrutinize and Control
    • Committee on Government Assurances
    • Committee on Subordinate Legislation
    • Committee on Papers Laid on the Table
    • Committee on Welfare of SCs and STs
    • Committee on Empowerment of Women
    • Joint Committee on Offices of Profit
  5. Committees Relating to the Day-to-Day Business of the House
    • Business Advisory Committee
    • Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions
    • Rules Committee
    • Committee on Absence of Members from Sittings of the House
  6. House-Keeping Committees or Service Committees (i.e., Committees concerned with the Provision of Facilities and Services to Members):
    • General Purposes Committee
    • House Committee
    • Library Committee
    • Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members

Ad Hoc Committees

Ad hoc committees can be categorized into two groups: Inquiry Committees and Advisory Committees.

  1. Inquiry Committees are formed periodically by either of the two Houses through a motion or by the Speaker/Chairman to investigate and report on specific subjects. Examples include:
    • Committee on the Conduct of Certain Members during the President’s Address
    • Committee on Draft Five-Year Plan
    • Railway Convention Committee
    • Committee on Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS)
    • Joint Committee on Bofors Contract
    • Joint Committee on Fertilizer Pricing
    • Joint Committee to Enquire into Irregularities in Securities and Banking Transactions
    • Joint Committee on Stock Market Scam
    • Joint Committee on Security in Parliament Complex
    • Committee on Provision of Computers to Members of Parliament, Offices of Political Parties, and Officers of the Lok Sabha Secretariat
    • Committee on Food Management in Parliament House Complex
    • Committee on Installation of Portraits/Statues of National Leaders and Parliamentarians in Parliament House Complex
    • Joint Committee on Maintenance of Heritage Character and Development of Parliament House Complex
    • Committee on Violation of Protocol Norms and Contemptuous Behaviour of Government Officers with Members of Lok Sabha
    • Joint Committee to Examine Matters Relating to Allocation and Pricing of Telecom Licenses and Spectrum
  2. Advisory Committees consist of select or joint committees on bills, tasked with considering and reporting on particular bills. These committees differ from other ad hoc committees as they focus on bills, and their procedural guidelines are outlined in the Rules of Procedure and the Directions by the Speaker/Chairman.

When a bill is up for general discussion in a House, it can be referred to either a Select Committee of that House or a Joint Committee of both Houses. A motion to this effect must be proposed and accepted in the House considering the bill. If the motion is for referral to a Joint Committee, the decision is communicated to the other House, requesting them to nominate members for the Committee.

The Select or Joint Committee examines the bill clause by clause, similar to the process in the two Houses. Committee members can propose amendments to various clauses and may also gather evidence from relevant associations, public bodies, or experts. Following a thorough examination, the Committee submits its report to the House. Members who dissent from the majority report can attach their dissenting views to the report.

Financial Committees

Public Accounts Committee

Established initially in 1921 under the provisions of the Government of India Act of 1919, the Public Accounts Committee has remained operational since then. Presently, it comprises 22 members, with 15 from the Lok Sabha and 7 from the Rajya Sabha. Members are elected annually by Parliament through proportional representation via the single transferable vote system, ensuring fair representation for all parties. Their term lasts for one year, and ministers are ineligible for committee membership. The Speaker appoints the committee chairman from among its members. Traditionally, until 1966-67, the chairman came from the ruling party, but since 1967, a convention dictates that the chairman is chosen from the Opposition.

The primary function of the committee is to scrutinize the annual audit reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), presented to Parliament by the President. The CAG submits three audit reports to the President: on appropriation accounts, finance accounts, and public undertakings.

The committee’s role extends beyond the mere examination of legal and formal aspects of public expenditure. It also evaluates expenditures for their economic, prudent, and wise utilization, aiming to identify instances of waste, loss, corruption, extravagance, inefficiency, and unnecessary expenses.

In further detail, the responsibilities of the committee include:

  1. Reviewing the appropriation accounts and the finance accounts of the Union government, as well as any other financial records presented to the Lok Sabha. The appropriation accounts compare actual expenditures with those sanctioned by Parliament through the Appropriation Act, while the finance accounts outline the annual receipts and expenditures of the Union Government.
  2. When scrutinizing the appropriation accounts and the associated audit reports prepared by the CAG, the committee must ensure:
    • Legal availability of disbursed funds for their designated services or purposes.
    • Expenditure compliance with governing authorities.
    • Proper adherence to rules regarding any re-appropriation.
  3. Examining the financial records of state corporations, trading entities, and manufacturing ventures, along with the respective audit reports by the CAG. (Public undertakings designated to the Committee on Public Undertakings are excluded from this review.)
  4. Assessing the financial records of autonomous and semi-autonomous entities, subject to audit by the CAG.
  5. Reviewing the CAG’s reports on the audit of receipts or examining records of stores and stocks.
  6. Investigating expenditures exceeding allocated amounts for any service during a fiscal year.

Throughout these tasks, the committee receives support from the CAG, who serves as a valuable advisor and resource. Reflecting on the committee’s role, Ashok Chanda, a former CAG of India, noted: “Over the years, the committee has consistently met expectations as a formidable force in overseeing public expenditure. Its established traditions and conventions align with the highest standards of parliamentary democracy.”

However, the effectiveness of the committee’s role is limited by the following factors:

(a) It does not address policy questions in a broader context.

(b) It primarily conducts a post-mortem examination of accounts, focusing on expenditures already incurred.

(c) The committee lacks authority to intervene in day-to-day administration matters.

(d) Its recommendations are advisory and do not carry binding authority on ministries.

(e) The committee lacks the power to disallow expenditures by departments.

(f) As a non-executive body, it cannot issue orders; only Parliament has the authority to make final decisions based on the committee’s findings.

Committee on Public Undertakings

This committee was established in 1964 based on the recommendation of the Krishna Menon Committee. Initially comprising 15 members (10 from the Lok Sabha and 5 from the Rajya Sabha), its membership was later increased to 22 (15 from the Lok Sabha and 7 from the Rajya Sabha) in 1974. Members are elected annually by Parliament according to the principle of proportional representation through a single transferable vote. This ensures representation for all parties. Members serve a one-year term, and ministers are ineligible. The committee’s chairman is appointed by the Speaker from among its Lok Sabha members; hence, Rajya Sabha members cannot serve as chairman.

The functions of the committee include:

  1. Examining the reports and accounts of public undertakings.
  2. Reviewing the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General on public undertakings.
  3. Assessing whether the affairs of public undertakings are managed in line with sound business principles and prudent commercial practices.
  4. Exercising functions allocated to the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee concerning public undertakings, as assigned by the Speaker.

The committee does not investigate:

(i) Matters of major government policy distinct from the business or commercial functions of public undertakings. (ii) Matters of day-to-day administration. (iii) Matters addressed by special statutes establishing specific public undertakings.

However, the effectiveness of the committee’s role is constrained by:

(a) Its limited capacity to examine no more than ten to twelve public undertakings annually.

(b) Its work being retrospective in nature.

(c) Its members lacking technical expertise.

(d) Its recommendations being advisory rather than binding on ministries.

Departmental Standing Committees

Upon the recommendation of the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha, 17 Departmentally-Related Standing Committees (DRSCs) were established in Parliament in 1993. In 2004, seven additional committees were established, increasing the total from 17 to 24.

The primary objective of these standing committees is to enhance the accountability of the Executive (i.e., the Council of Ministers) to Parliament, particularly in terms of financial accountability. They also play a crucial role in facilitating more effective debates on the budget within Parliament.

These 24 standing committees have jurisdiction over all ministries and departments of the Central Government.

Each standing committee comprises 31 members, with 21 from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha. Members of the Lok Sabha are nominated by the Speaker from among its members, while members of the Rajya Sabha are nominated by the Chairman from among its members. Ministers are ineligible for membership, and if a member is appointed as a minister after nomination, they cease to be a committee member.

The term of office for each standing committee is one year from its constitution date.

Among the 24 standing committees, 8 operate under the Rajya Sabha, while 16 function under the Lok Sabha.

Committees for Inquiry

Committee on Petitions

This committee reviews petitions concerning bills and matters of general public importance. It also considers representations from individuals and associations regarding Union subjects. The Lok Sabha committee comprises 15 members, while the Rajya Sabha committee comprises 10 members.

Committee of Privileges

With functions of a semi-judicial nature, this committee investigates cases involving breaches of the privileges of the House and its members, offering recommendations for suitable action. The Lok Sabha committee consists of 15 members, while the Rajya Sabha committee consists of 10 members.

Ethics Committee

Established in the Rajya Sabha in 1997 and in the Lok Sabha in 2000, this committee ensures adherence to the code of conduct for Members of Parliament. It examines cases of misconduct and suggests appropriate measures, thus playing a pivotal role in upholding discipline and decorum within Parliament.

Committees for Scrutiny and Control

Committee on Government Assurances

Established in 1953, this committee evaluates assurances, promises, and undertakings made by ministers during House sessions, reporting on the extent to which they have been fulfilled. Comprising 15 members in the Lok Sabha and 10 members in the Rajya Sabha.

Committee on Subordinate Legislation

Also formed in 1953, this committee assesses whether the Executive is properly exercising its powers to create regulations, rules, sub-rules, and bye-laws delegated by Parliament or conferred by the Constitution. It consists of 15 members in both Houses.

Committee on Papers Laid on the Table

Constituted in 1975, this committee, with 15 members in the Lok Sabha and 10 members in the Rajya Sabha, examines papers presented by ministers to ensure compliance with constitutional provisions or related Acts or Rules. It excludes scrutiny of statutory notifications and orders under the purview of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation.

Committee on Welfare of SCs and STs

Comprising 30 members (20 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha), this committee addresses matters related to the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Its functions include reviewing reports from the National Commissions for SCs and STs and examining issues such as constitutional and statutory safeguards and the efficacy of welfare programs.

Committee on Empowerment of Women

Established in 1997, this committee, with 30 members (20 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha), reviews reports from the National Commission for Women and evaluates Union Government measures aimed at promoting the status, dignity, and equality of women across various sectors.

Joint Committee on Offices of Profit

Comprising 15 members (10 from Lok Sabha and 5 from Rajya Sabha), this committee examines the composition and functions of committees and bodies appointed by Central, state, and union territory governments, determining whether office-holders should be disqualified from parliamentary membership.

Committees for House Operations

Business Advisory Committee

Responsible for managing the House’s schedule, this committee allocates time for legislative and other business brought by the government. In the Lok Sabha, it comprises 15 members, with the Speaker serving as chairman. In the Rajya Sabha, it includes 11 members, with the Chairman as its ex-officio chairman.

Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions

A special committee of the Lok Sabha, it organizes bills and allocates discussion time for bills and resolutions introduced by private members, excluding ministers. With 15 members, including the Deputy Speaker as chairman. The Rajya Sabha lacks such a committee, with the Business Advisory Committee handling similar functions.

Rules Committee

Tasked with reviewing matters of procedure and business conduct, this committee suggests necessary amendments or additions to House rules. In the Lok Sabha, it comprises 15 members, with the Speaker as its ex-officio chairman. The Rajya Sabha version includes 16 members, with the Chairman serving as ex-officio chairman.

Committee on Absence of Members

This committee addresses member applications for leave from House sittings and examines cases of prolonged absence without permission, exceeding 60 days. Exclusive to the Lok Sabha, it consists of 15 members. The Rajya Sabha lacks such a committee, handling these matters internally.

Housekeeping Committees

General Purposes Committee

This committee advises on matters concerning the House not under the jurisdiction of other parliamentary committees. It includes the presiding officer (Speaker/Chairman) as ex-officio chairman, along with the Deputy Speaker (Deputy Chairman for the Rajya Sabha), panel members, committee chairpersons, leaders of recognized parties/groups, and members nominated by the presiding officer.

House Committee

Responsible for members’ residential accommodation and amenities such as food and medical aid in Delhi’s houses and hostels. Both Houses have their respective House Committees, with the Lok Sabha committee comprising 12 members.

Library Committee

Addressing all library-related matters, this committee assists members in utilizing parliamentary library services. It consists of nine members, with six from the Lok Sabha and three from the Rajya Sabha.

Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members

Established under the Salary, Allowances, and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954, this committee comprises 15 members (10 from the Lok Sabha and 5 from the Rajya Sabha). It formulates rules governing the payment of salaries, allowances, and pensions to members of Parliament.

Consultative Committees

Consultative committees are affiliated with different ministries/departments of the Central Government, comprising members from both Houses of Parliament. The Minister/Minister of State leading the concerned Ministry serves as the chairman of the respective consultative committee, fostering informal discussions between ministers and parliamentarians regarding government policies, programs, and their execution.

These committees are established by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, which formulates guidelines regarding their composition, functions, and procedures. The Ministry also coordinates the scheduling of meetings during parliamentary sessions and intersession periods.

Membership in these committees is voluntary and at the discretion of members and their party leaders. Each committee can have a maximum of 30 members and a minimum of 10.

Typically, these committees are formed after the Lok Sabha elections. They dissolve with each Lok Sabha dissolution and are reconstituted with the formation of each new Lok Sabha.

Furthermore, separate Informal Consultative Committees are formed for all Railway Zones, comprising Members of Parliament representing areas under a particular zone. Unlike the consultative committees attached to ministries/departments, the meetings of Informal Consultative Committees are held only during session periods.

FAQs about Parliamentary Committees in India

  1. What are parliamentary committees in India, and why are they significant?
    • Parliamentary committees in India are bodies formed by the Parliament to assist in its functions. They play a crucial role in scrutinizing government actions, ensuring accountability, and fostering informed decision-making. These committees address various aspects of governance, from financial matters to policy scrutiny and oversight.
  2. How are parliamentary committees classified, and what are the main types?
    • Parliamentary committees in India are broadly categorized into two types: Standing Committees and Ad Hoc Committees. Standing Committees are permanent, while Ad Hoc Committees are temporary. Standing Committees are further classified based on their functions into six categories, such as Financial Committees and Committees to Inquire.
  3. What is the composition of Standing Committees in India?
    • Standing Committees typically consist of members from both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The number of members, composition, and tenure vary depending on the specific committee. However, ministers are generally ineligible for committee membership to ensure their independence from the executive.
  4. What is the role of Financial Committees in the Indian Parliament?
    • Financial Committees, including the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings, play a critical role in scrutinizing government expenditures and ensuring financial accountability. They examine audit reports and assess whether public funds are utilized efficiently and in accordance with established norms.
  5. How are members appointed to parliamentary committees in India?
    • Members of parliamentary committees are typically nominated by the Speaker/Chairman of the respective House. The nomination process aims to ensure proportional representation from various political parties. Members serve for a specific tenure, typically one year, and ministers are usually ineligible for committee membership.
  6. What is the role of Ad Hoc Committees in the Indian Parliament?
    • Ad Hoc Committees are temporary bodies formed to address specific issues or tasks. They can be either Inquiry Committees or Advisory Committees. Inquiry Committees investigate particular subjects, while Advisory Committees focus on providing recommendations or advice on specific matters, such as bills.
  7. What distinguishes Consultative Committees from other parliamentary committees
    • Consultative Committees are distinct from other parliamentary committees as they are affiliated with specific ministries/departments of the Central Government. Their primary function is to facilitate informal discussions between ministers and parliamentarians regarding government policies, programs, and their implementation.
  8. How do parliamentary committees contribute to fostering transparency and accountability in governance?
    • Parliamentary committees play a vital role in scrutinizing government actions, policies, and expenditures. By conducting inquiries, reviewing reports, and making recommendations, these committees contribute to transparency, accountability, and oversight in governance, ensuring that public resources are utilized effectively and in the public interest.
  9. What powers do parliamentary committees possess?
    • While parliamentary committees have significant influence and authority in scrutinizing government actions and making recommendations, their powers are mainly advisory in nature. They lack the authority to enforce decisions or take direct action. However, their reports and recommendations carry substantial weight and often influence policy-making and legislative processes.
  10. How often do parliamentary committees in India operate, and what is their tenure?
    • Parliamentary committees operate throughout the year, although their specific meeting schedules may vary. The tenure of committee members is typically one year, after which new members are nominated. Committees are reconstituted with each new Lok Sabha, ensuring continuity in their functions and oversight responsibilities.

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