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Mains Answer Writing

27-February-2024

Q1)”Parliamentary committees serve as the engine room of legislative scrutiny, delving deep into policy matters and holding the government to account.” In this perspective, evaluate the role of departmentally-related standing committees (DRSCs) in holding the executive accountable to the parliament.

(250 Words/15 Marks)

ANSWER

The functioning of Parliament is a complex mechanism and the role of parliamentary committees is key to the effective functioning of the parliament. Parliamentary committees draw their authority from Article 105 on privileges of Parliament members and Article 118 on Parliament’s authority to make rules for regulating its procedure and conduct of business.

There are broadly two kinds of parliamentary committees:

  1. Standing committees: These are permanent in nature.

E.g., Financial Committees, Departmentally-Related Standing Committees, Administrative Committees etc.

  1. Ad-hoc committees: These are established for specific purposes.

E.g., by Rajya Sabha’s Select Committee on GST Bill.

There are 24 departmentally-related standing committees (DRSCs), of which 8 work under the Rajya Sabha and 16 under the Lok Sabha. The role of DRSCs in holding the executive accountable to the parliament is as follows:

  1. Mini-parliament: As a small body of 31 members, DRSCs can exercise much better oversight over the executive. They have members from the government as well as the opposition. Parliament, on the other hand, is a much larger body, which fails to scrutinize every aspect of the functioning of the executive.
  2. Continuous Functioning: Parliamentary work is scattered between sessions, however, the DRSCs function throughout the year. They also assist the parliament to question the executive through more effective debates based on the reports of DRSCs.
  3. Public participation: DRSCs invite comments from the public or opinions from the experts on relevant issues and policy matters. It thus brings in elements of direct democracy in holding the policy decisions by the executive.
  4. Consensus-building: DRSCs facilitate building of political consensus across party lines, beyond the glare of the media and public eye. Party biases can be contained in favour of issuebased bipartisan opinion.
  5. Thorough scrutiny of policies is possible as members can air their opinion without the fear of anti-defection law. It is better able to evade issues of politicization that plague parliamentary discussions.
  6. Opposition’s rule: DRSCs give greater role to opposition parties in exercising financial control over the executive. All parties get to contribute to the functioning of the government.

However, DRSCs also have certain limitations in enforcing accountability of the executive, as discussed below:

  1. It is not mandatory for the government to refer the bills to DRSCs.

E.g., only 27% of bills were referred to DRSCs in the 16th Lok Sabha.

  1. The recommendations of DRSCs are not binding on the government.

E.g., in 13% cases, an action taken report is submitted by the government on recommendations from DRSCs.

  1. As per National Commission on Review of the Working of the Constitution, DRSCs do not have any standing research support. They are also not mandated to seek expert opinion. The lack of expertise handicaps the working of DRSCs
  2. Short Tenure: While DRSCs function continuously across sessions of the parliament, the total term of a DRSC is only one year.
  3. There is a lack of transparency in the way DRSCs function.

The DRSCs have reduced the burden on the Parliament and contributed to making Parliament an effective forum for informed debates on policy issues. Thus, these committees along with ensuring the accountability of the executive also act as the backbone in the functioning of the parliament.

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