Parliamentary standing committees are a significant tool to enhance the accountability of executive. In this context, critically analyse their functioning and suggest measures to make them more effective.
The Parliament is too unwieldy a body to deliberate effectively the issues that come up before it. Therefore, it is assisted by a number of committees in the discharge of its duties.
The Constitution has no specific provisions regarding composition, tenure, functioning of two houses. All these matters are dealt by the rules of two houses.
Parliamentary standing committees are permanent committees and work on a continuous basis.
How does the Parliamentary committees enhance accountability of Legislature?
- Parliamentary Committees are basically miniature parliaments in themselves, comprising members across party lines from both the Houses
- When a Bill is referred to the Committee, they can call for and examine witnesses, look into the minutiae of an issue, and give detailed recommendations, but most important, they allow a member to speak her mind on an issue without the need to toe the party line
- The committees also acts as a check on poorly drafted provisions within legislations which is hurriedly passed through a House Executive accountability to the legislature is enforced through questions in Parliament also, which are answered by ministers
- However, department standing committees go one step further and hear from senior officials of the government in a closed setting, allowing for more detailed discussions.
- This mechanism also enables parliamentarians to understand the executive processes closely.
How effective has been the role of Parliamentary committee?
- The Outcome of the report is tabled in Parliament which generally has a ”persuasive” or ”advisory” value
- Due to the non-binding nature of these reports, it is often possible for the government of the day to ignore the recommendations within the report
- These reports, which can run into several hundred pages, are then of only academic value
- No compulsive provisions in Constitution to refer any matter to a committee, has resulted in the Government in power voting down the Oppositions request for scrutiny
- This was seen in case of recent RTI Amendment Bill, which after being passed came under lot of Criticism
- The statistics are not on the side of the committees either. As per PRS Legislative Research, in the 16th Lok Sabha, 25% of the Bills introduced were referred to Committees Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committees, created in 1993, which largely have an audit-based role of their respective ministries are circumscribed in their areas of functioning. When a party has sufficient numbers in both Houses of Parliament, it is almost inevitable that these standing committees are populated by members from the ruling disposition, which enables them to prevent matters unfavourable to the government from being taken up.
How to make these Committees more effective?
- To make committee functioning more effective and Transparent, the proceedings should be often publicly available or live streamed, to allow the Public to play a greater role in Policy shaping.
- Making them more transparent, would prove to be a check on member absenteeism, which is a chronic problem in assemblies The standing committees should be given enough powers to ask for bills related to its area of operation to be referred to it. This exercise will prevent the Government with overwhelming numbers in the Parliament to bypass scrutiny by a committee.
- There is a need of Subject Matter experts, to improve to quality of working and recommendations of these committees.
- The area of committee functioning should be expanded from being a yearly financial auditor, to play an active role in the oversight of Government functioning.
Hence, the need for more transparency in functioning of these committees, so as to realize their potential in ensuring more democratic functioning of Government