Department Related Standing Committees

MAR 2

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Why in news:

According to Rajya Sabha Chairman, 95 MPs from both Houses of Parliament did not attend any meeting of the eight department related standing committees (DRSC) that falls under the purview of the Upper House during the three-week recess given to scrutinize the Budget.

What are Department Related Standing Committees?

  • In Parliament, every business transacted on the floor of the House has a designated time allocated. As a result, it is difficult for all members to be involved in the deliberation process and ensure that each Bill is scrutinized in detail.
  • In order to ensure that the Parliament discharges its duty effectively Department related standing committees were introduced in 1993. The committees were meant to scrutinize legislations pertaining to specific ministries, their budgets and also deliberate on any other subject of importance to particular sectors.
  • In 2004, seven more such committees were setup, thus increasing their number from 17 to 24. They cover under their jurisdiction all the ministries/ departments of the Central Government.
  • Out of the 24 standing committees, 8 work under the Rajya Sabha and 16 under the Lok Sabha.
  • Members
    • Each standing committee consists of 31 members (21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha). The members of the Lok Sabha are nominated by the Speaker from amongst its own members and that of Rajya Sabha are nominated by the Chairman from amongst its members.
    • A minister is not eligible to be nominated as a member of any of the standing committees. The term of office of each standing committee is one year from the date of its constitution.

Major functions of Department Related Standing Committees (DRC):

  • To consider the demands for grants of the concerned ministries /departments before they are discussed and voted in the Lok Sabha. 
  • To examine bills pertaining to the concerned ministries.
  • To consider annual reports of ministries / departments
  • To consider national basic long-term policy documents presented to the Houses

Issues with the functioning of DRCs:

  • The rules do not require that all Bills be examined by a Committee. Inadequate scrutiny may lead to implementation challenges and impact the purpose of enacting the law itself. 
  • There is a declining trend about referring bills to committees. In the 15th LS, 71% of the Bills introduced were referred to Committees for examination, as compared to 27% in the 16th Lok Sabha.
  • There is a recent trend of bypassing DRSCs through Specially-formed joint committees. Several Bills piloted by the Finance Ministry have been referred to specially-formed joint committees of the two Houses chaired by a member of ruling party rather than the DRSC chaired by a member from the opposition.
  • The non-binding nature of recommendations make the committee less effective. In the five-year period of the last Parliament, the Government accepted only 54 per cent of the recommendations.
  • They do not have specialized staff to provide them with research and assist in the scrutiny of technical subjects.
  • Continued absence and lack of participation by members prevent DRSCs to deliberate effectively. It affects the quality of work.

Benefits of having DRCs:

  • Accountability: It ensures the accountability of the executive, especially the financial. It provides a greater role for opposition parties and the Rajya Sabha.
  • Help Parliament manage its business better: Members of parliament get little time to be able to get into the depth of matters being discussed in the House. DRSCs meet throughout the year and help make up for this lack of time available on the floor of the House.
  • Ensuring expertise: Parliament deliberates on matters that are complex, and therefore needs domain expertise to understand such matters better.  Committees help with this by providing a forum where Members can engage with domain experts and government officials during the course of their study.  As a DRSC focusses on a set of ministries, it helps the members to build sector knowledge.
  • Political consensus: As the proceeding of the committees are not televised, members can express their opinions independently without bothering about public opinion. This allow them to deliberate freely and arrive at a consensus. This also ensure that their proceedings are devoid of any party bias.
  • Independence of members: Committees are outside of the purview of anti-defection law. Hence decisions are not made on party lines rather in greater public good.
  • Better laws: Even though recommendations of the committees are not binding, they hold a lot of weights. Its inputs are taken seriously for overcoming the discrepancies in the bill.

DRCs can be strengthened in the following ways:

  • Rules must be amended to enable mandatory examination of all bills by the concerned committee.
  • Adequate funding to have an independent support staff for research shall be made available.
  • The submissions and evidence given by various experts and members of the public can be published so that any advocacy is made more transparent while keeping the members free from constituency pressures.
  • Fixing of minimum attendance to ensure participation of every member can be done.

Practice Question

Q. Explain the role played by Department related standing committees (DRSC) in improving parliamentary performance in India.