Fresh guidelines for House panels on anvil
Parliament is preparing new guidelines for its standing committees that 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; and at least 50% attendance while collecting evidence and adopting reports.
Standing committees are an extension of Parliament. They engage in crucial reviews of the functioning of the government, and examine important public issues.
The Rajya Sabha secretariat has already prepared draft guidelines after chairman Venkaiah Naidu reviewed the functioning of the eight standing committees under its purview. The Lok Sabha secretariat, however, is yet to draft their version. Once that exercise is over, common guidelines will be inked by Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla.
To be sure, a whole set of dos and don’ts is already available in the rule books of the two Houses. But officials involved in the discussions pointed to an urgent need to bring functional guidelines to address vital issues related to the composition, performance, and work of the panels, given how the issues under their consideration are getting increasingly complex and specialised.
On August 5, Naidu, who envisaged the guidelines as a part of larger parliamentary reforms, wrote to Birla, saying they should discuss various issues related to Standing Committees before revisiting the guidelines.
“After the recommendations of this Committee of Officers (reviewing the Lok Sabha rules) are received, we may discuss the matter further before revising the guidelines,” Naidu wrote in the letter, which HT has seen.
The draft guidelines prepared by the Upper House, which were also reviewed by HT, say that “meetings of the committees shall be convened with a minimum notice period of 15 days so as to enable the members to plan their travel and attend the meetings”.
The draft guidelines add that “quorum of 1/3 of the total membership of the Committees shall be ensured in all the meetings of the Committees” and “efforts shall be made to ensure attendance of 50% of the total strength of the Committees while taking evidence and adoption of reports by the Committees”.
While every MP is entitled to be a member of a Standing Committee, the draft guidelines say that “level of comfort of members with the issues to be discussed by the Committees and the domain knowledge of subject matter of the Committees is an enabling factor regarding attendance”.
“All efforts shall be made to nominate members of parliament on various DRSCs based on their academic qualifications, interests and occupations being pursued,” the draft guidelines add, and “all political parties may be advised to consider the above” while recommending names of their MPs on various committees.
It was during the 10th Lok Sabha (1991-1996), that 17 department-related standing committees were set up to review the functioning of ministries. The role of these panels is to review bills, discuss raging issues, and submit reports for the government to act upon. While the recommendations of the panel are not binding upon the government, the panels are an extension of Parliament and act as a robust review mechanism of India’s top legislative body.
The current rules, as laid out from 331C to 331 N, talk about the number of members, discretion powers of the Rajya Sabha chairman and Lok Sabha speaker, that ministers can’t be a part of panels, and the one-year term of the panels, how no report can suggest a cut motion (a move to reduce budget expenses), and other rules of functioning.
Chaksu Roy, head of Legislative and Civic Engagement, PRS Legislative Research said, “There is an urgent need to overhaul the rules governing parliamentary committees. It will bring operational clarity to their daily functioning, whether it’s regarding secrecy of meetings, quorum or calling of witnesses. With committees shouldering more legislative work it will bring much needed streamlining of their work.”