IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 11th Oct 2017
TOPIC: General Studies 2:
- Parliament and State Legislatures ‐ structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
Strengthening departmentally related standing committees(DRSCs)
A democracy derives its legitimacy by functioning through its elected institutions. Parliament plays a central role in our democracy by performing several important functions. Both Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha scrutinise the work of the Government through several procedures. Both have a role in making laws as well as the the power to amend the Constitution. However, only Lok Sabha needs to approve any expenditure of the Government or a tax proposal.
The Houses typically meet for about 70 days a year to conduct their business. Beyond the visible work in the two Houses, a substantial part of the work is carried out by committees.
Parliament has recently reconstituted the departmentally related standing committees (DRSCs), which perform three important functions: examine Bills referred to them; select specific topics related to the ministries and examine implementation by the Government; and examine the budgetary outlays of the departments.
Their performance affects the overall effectiveness of Parliament as an institution that makes laws, holds the Government accountable, and gives sanction for public spending.
Objectives of DRSCs:
These committees fulfil several objectives.
- They help Parliament manage its business better.
It is easier to examine a topic in depth by a committee of 30 than by an assembly of 700.
- They enable input from experts and those who may be directly affected by a policy or legislation. For example, the DRSCs often invite comments from the public and call people to testify.
- Being outside direct public glare allows members to discuss issues and reach consensus without worrying about constituency pressures.
- An advantage in the Indian context is that the anti-defection law does not apply to committees — therefore, decisions are not usually made on party lines.
- These committees allow members to focus on some specific areas and build their expertise, which helps them scrutinise issues more thoroughly.
The DRSCs were formed in 1993; prior to that, there was no systematic process to examine Bills, and select committees were formed from time to time for some important Bills.
Other issues and budgetary demands were not examined in committees.
Each DRSC focusses on a set of ministries and, therefore, helps its members build sector knowledge. Currently, there are 24 DRSCs such as the Committee on Finance or the Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture. Each has 21 members from Lok Sabha and ten from Rajya Sabha.
Issues with DRSCs:
- All Bills are not referred to committees.
Whereas during the period of the last two parliaments, 60 percent and 71 percent of all Bills were referred to committees, just 27 percent of Bills introduced in the current Parliament have been so referred.
Though rules mention that the Speaker of Lok Sabha or Chairman of Rajya Sabha refers the Bill, this is usually done on the recommendation of the relevant minister. The current government is in a minority in that House, and Rajya Sabha has, in a number of instances, formed a select committee to examine a Bill that has been passed by Lok Sabha. Even a Bill as important as the Constitution Amendment to enable the GST was passed by Lok Sabha without reference to the DRSC; Rajya Sabha formed a Select Committee and several of its recommendations were incorporated into the Bill that was passed.
- The recommendation of committees is not binding.
It is for the Government or any other member to move the relevant amendments, which may then be voted upon by the House. The idea is, committees are a small part of Parliament which make recommendations, and the full House has the authority and responsibility to make the final decision.
- One major weakness of these committees is the lack of standing research support.
They are backed by the general support staff of Parliament and do not have a dedicated set of researchers associated with them.
While they can (and often do) reach out to outside experts, there is no internal expertise.
A related issue is the high churn in parliamentary membership. In each of the last three Lok Sabhas, over 50 per cent of the members elected were first time MPs. As several of the experienced members become ministers, only a small pool of MPs gain subject knowledge by being in a committee for long.
The DRSC usually invites experts while scrutinising Bills. However, this is not always the case, even for Bills with wide ramifications.
- Issue of transparency of the work of committees.
All committees meet behind closed doors and only the final report is published, with summary minutes.
There have been arguments that the meetings should be televised or at least the full transcripts be published. The counter-argument is committees work as discussion forums and often reach consensus, as there is no pressure on members to posture for their support base. This would be lost if detailed proceedings were made public.
A middle path would be to publish the submissions and evidence given by various experts and members of the public so that any advocacy is made more transparent while keeping the members free from constituency pressures.
In sum, The DRSC system has been a fairly successful experiment. It is important to further strengthen its ability for detailed scrutiny of issues so that it helps parliament work better in its lawmaking and accountability roles. These would include mandatory examination of all Bills, creating research teams, and improving the transparency of input from advocacy groups. Many MPs call these committees “mini-parliaments” and strengthening their working will improve Parliament’s overall effectiveness.
Connecting the dots:
- The departmentally related standing committees are rightly called as “mini-parliaments”. Strengthening their working will improve Parliament’s overall effectiveness. Analyze. Also discuss ways to strengthen these committees.
TOPIC: General Studies 2:
- India and its neighborhood‐ relations
- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
Promoting deep sea fishing in the Palk Bay
The government is trying to promote deep sea fishing as an alternative to trawling in the Palk Bay. Proponents of deep sea fishing argue that the lure of better catch in far-off seas and avoiding the risks of cross-border fishing in Sri Lankan waters will ensure its success.
Deep sea fishing has always been an integral part of the country’s Blue Revolution vision to exploit fishing resources to the maximum within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The present plan in the Palk Bay is to extract 2,000 trawlers from the bay and replace them with deep sea vessels that fish in the Bay of Bengal and Gulf of Mannar. The time period for this transition is three years (2017-2020), with 500 boats to be replaced in the first year alone.
The Central and Tamil Nadu governments have committed Rs. 800 crore and Rs. 320 crore, respectively, to the plan. Each vessel will be fitted for tuna long-lining and/or gillnetting, and have a unit cost of Rs. 80 lakh. Of this unit cost, trawl owners have to only pay Rs. 8 lakh upfront and Rs. 16 lakh through a loan from the Pandyan Grama Bank. The balance Rs. 56 lakh will be a subsidy shared by the State and Central governments.
Solving the Palk Bay fishing conflict:
The Sri Lankan government has not only passed a legislation banning trawling but its navy has also been vigilantly patrolling the International Maritime Boundary Line, ‘capturing’ Indian trawl boats and fishers.
The plan is to remove as many trawl vessels from the Palk Bay as possible. Prospective beneficiaries of the deep see fishing project should possess a registered, seaworthy trawl vessel of over 12m in length that must be scrapped or disposed of outside the Palk Bay. The disposed vessel should also have been physically verified.
The government is now creating a new deep sea fishing harbour at Mookaiyur, located just south of the Palk Bay in the Gulf of Mannar, where many of these vessels are likely to be berthed. Priority is to be given to owners who have had their boats apprehended or damaged in Sri Lanka. Beneficiaries are not allowed to sell their boats within five years of obtaining them.
Issues with the plan:
- There should be sufficient stocks of fish in the adjacent waters of the Bay of Bengal and Gulf of Mannar to make deep sea fishing economically viable for a large and new fleet of vessels.
The Indian government report of the Working Group for Revalidating the Potential of Fishery Resources in the Indian EEZ suggests that oceanic regions have a maximum potential yield of 208,000 tonnes.
Importantly, however, while the report highlights that oceanic stocks are not fully exploited, it does not state where the remaining oceanic stocks in the Indian Ocean exist nor whether this might be in the Bay of Bengal or the Gulf of Mannar.
Moreover, the report warns that oceanic resources are transboundary and hence are targeted by a number of other countries too.
- Palk Bay trawl fishers, who are used to one-day fishing do not have sufficient skills and an interest for deep sea fishing.
In fairness, the authorities have taken note of training needs and are setting up special facilities in collaboration with the TNFU and the Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training. Applicant trawl owners also expect to employ a few specialised workers from the operational deep sea fishing fleet of Thoothoor, at least for the initial period of operation.
The question of what will become of trawl crews remains largely unaddressed, potentially jeopardising the local economy of the region.
- For trawl fishers, the main concern is whether deep sea fishing is a sound investment or not.
Some fishermen have expressed doubts about the high operational costs of deep sea fishing and the loan repayment schedule imposed by the Pandyan Grama Bank.
- Monitoring is important
Whether deep sea fishing will reduce the Palk Bay fishing conflict depends entirely on the downsizing of the existing trawl fleet. On paper, the necessary safeguards are in place. But rules are not always followed.
The government will have to ensure that remaining vessels are not upgraded in size or engine horsepower, as many trawl owners in the Palk Bay have been increasing their engine capacities surreptitiously, well beyond legal limits.
- Equally of concern is the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Department’s capacity to monitor, control and carry out surveillance (MCS) of the process of decommissioning. Regulations have always existed but have rarely been implemented judiciously.
The Palk Bay conflict requires a multi-dimensional approach. Various other solutions such as buy-backs, alternative livelihoods and skill development need to be rolled out with a simultaneous focus on a strong MCS system. Only then can the fishing conflict be finally resolved.
Connecting the dots:
- By promoting deep- sea fishing in Palk Bay area, the government has taken a step in right direction. However, there are various challenges like issue of monitoring that the new rules are followed, lack of skills related to deep-sea fishing among farmers, economic vaibility of the plan etc. Discuss.
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