Control over Public Expenditure
In a parliamentary democracy, the political executive is responsible to the Parliament. The control exercised by the Parliament over the executive is its control on financial expenditure.
The Parliament is the custodian of public money, and what better way to keep an eye on the authorities spending the money than through the representatives of the public sitting there?
The methods adopted by the Parliament for controlling expenditure may be broadly classified into two categories:
- Built-in techniques in parliamentary procedure, and
- Committees appointed by the Parliament To begin with the first category, there are certain techniques which are part of the parliamentary procedure. Some of these are general, in the sense that they are employed for both financial and other matters, while specific techniques help the Parliament to exercise financial control. Among the in-built techniques in the parliamentary procedure, questions are the most significant.
Questions represent a very powerful technique of parliamentary control over expenditure. The right to ask questions was given for the first time to the legislators by the Act of 1892 and for asking supplementary questions in 1909. A question is a request made by a member for an oral explanation from the concerned minister. However, a notice of 10 days has to be given to the concerned minister before a question can be asked. But if a matter is urgent, then, a shorter notice is enough. The questions are classified into two categories-starred and unstarred. The questions marked with a star are answered orally and the unstarred ones get a written answer.
In the Indian Parliament, the questions raised by members on the various issues of the conduct of government, including its finance, have had great impact. It is well known how Feroz Gandhi’s one set of questions led to the unravelling of the Mundra Scandal, that eventually shook the whole Central government. It added a new chapter to India’s parliamentary history. The report of the Chagla Commission of inquiry on the LIC financial deals is a document that can still provide useful guidelines of right conduct for the ministers and the civil servants.
The term ‘Resolution’ is used in respect of certain kinds of motions only. These are of two kinds: those which recommend a particular course of action to the government and those which seek to censure an individual minister or the whole ministry. A member can also move a resolution on a matter of public interest. Fifteen days notice is required for moving a resolution. The resolution must raise some definite issue and should not deal with the conduct of anyone except in his official capacity.
When a member of the Parliament feels that a particular matter or report ought to be discussed in the House, a motion for that has to be brought before the House. A notice for such a motion has to be given according to set rules. When a member moves a motion, he may speak on it and so can the other members. Then, the debate over it takes place.
Annual Financial Statement
According to Article 112 of the Indian Constitution, the President of India causes to be laid before both the Houses of Parliament an ‘annual financial statement’ containing the statement of the estimated receipts and expenditure of the Government of India for that year. In the estimates of expenditure, the figures for the charge on the Consolidated Fund of India and the sums required for meeting expenditure outside the Consolidated Fund of India are given separately. Besides, the expenditure on revenue account is also distinguished from other expenditures.
Estimates Committee was first established during British Era in 1920s but Independent India’s first Estimates Committee was established in 1950. This committee examines the estimates included in the budget and suggests ‘economies’ in public expenditure.
The Estimates Committee has 30 members and all these members are from Lok Sabha. There is no Rajya Sabha member in Estimates Committee. The members are elected by Lok Sabha members from amongst themselves every year by principles of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote , so that all parties get due presentation in it. A minister cannot be elected as member / Chairman of estimates committee.
Public Accounts Committee
The Public Accounts Committee is charged with a critical function of the legislature – overseeing government finances. The PAC holds ministries accountable to the audit reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General, inquires into whether government funds were spent for purposes for which they were allocated, and into the reasons for any excess expenditure by government bodies. By convention, the chairperson of the committee is an opposition MP. Members are elected to the committee for a period of one year.
Committee on Public Undertakings
In addition to Public Accounts and Estimate Committees, a special committee on public undertaking was constituted by the Indian Parliament in May 1964. It consists of not more than fifteen members, ten from the Lok Sabha and five from the Rajya Sabha, elected by the concerned house every year from amongst its members according to the principle of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.
However, a minister cannot be elected as a member and in case a member of the committee becomes a minister in future he ceases to be a member of the committee with immediate effect. The term of office is one year but there is no bar to re-election of the same members. One of the members is elected as the chairman of the committee.