DMPQ-“Effective functioning of parliamentary committees is very important for the quality of political scrutiny and thereby for democracy.” Discuss.

. Over the years, the Indian Parliament has increasingly taken recourse to the committee system (as its counterparts did elsewhere). This was not merely meant for house keeping, to enhance the efficacy of the House to cope with the technical issues confronting it and to feel the public pulse, but also to guard its turf and keep it abreast to exercise accountability on the government.

Some committees such as the Estimates Committee and Public Accounts Committee (that even go back to the colonial period) have a commendable record in this regard. The executive in independent India, irrespective of the parties in power, was not very disposed to committees of scrutiny and oversight, sometimes on the specious plea that they usurped the powers of Parliament. This was far from the case. They were guardians of the autonomy of the House: the committees of scrutiny and oversight, as the case with other committees of the House, are not divided on party lines, work away from the public glare, remain informal compared to the codes that govern parliamentary proceedings, and are great training schools for new and young members of the House. In the discharge of their mandate, they can solicit expert advice and elicit public opinion. The officialdom in India has often attempted to take cover under political masters to avoid the scrutiny of committees. Besides the standing committees, the Houses of Parliament set up, from time to time, ad hoc committees to enquire and report on specific subjects which include Select Committees of a House or Joint Select committees of both the Houses that are assigned the task of studying a Bill closely and reporting back to the House.

It is important to point out that committees of scrutiny and advice, both standing and ad hoc, have been confined to the margins or left in the lurch in the last few years. Data by PRS India brings this out eloquently. While 60% of the Bills in the 14th Lok Sabha and 71% in the 15th Lok Sabha were wetted by the DRSCs concerned, this proportion came down to 27% in the 16th Lok Sabha.

 

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