- GS-2: Working of Executive & Parliamentary Accountability
Context: India’s Parliament recently passed the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which significantly increases the powers of the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) of Delhi
Despite the nature of the sweeping changes this bill proposed, it was not sent to a parliamentary committee, and there was no formal consultation with stakeholders, civil society, or experts before it was quickly rushed through both Houses of Parliament
Importance of Committees
- Thorough analysis of issues: Most MPs are generalists who rely on advice from experts and stakeholders before taking decisions. Therefore, committees are meant to help MPs seek expertise and give them time to think about issues in detail.
- Ensures all parties voice their opinion: All committees have MPs representing different parties, in roughly the same proportion as their strength in Parliament
- Feedback from multiple stakeholders: When bills are referred to these committees, they are examined closely and inputs are sought from various external stakeholders, including the public.
- Less burden of populistic posture: By virtue of being closed-door and away from the public eye, discussions in committee meetings are also more collaborative, with MPs feeling less pressured to posture for media galleries.
- Put pressure on government: Although committee recommendations are not binding on the government, their reports create a public record of the consultations that took place and put pressure on the government to reconsider its stand on debatable provisions.
- Referring bills to committees is not mandatory: In the Indian system, unfortunately, it is not mandatory for bills to be sent to committees. It’s left to the discretion of the Chair — the Speaker in the Lok Sabha and Chairperson in the Rajya Sabha
- Worrying Trend of sidelining Parliamentary Committees: Sidelining committees is increasingly becoming the norm in India. Only 25% bills were referred to committees in the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-2019) as compared to 60% in the 14th (2004-2009) and 71% in the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14).
- Risk of weakening Parliament: In the constitutional scheme of things, Parliament is supposed to maintain oversight on the government and keep its power in check. By circumventing due diligence in Parliament, we run the risk of weakening democracy.
- Direct discussion not a substitute for committee deliberation: The 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19) worked for over 1,615 hours, 20% more than the previous Lok Sabha, and passed 133 bills, 15% more than the 15th Lok Sabha. Thus, MPs are spending more time on direct deliberations on the floor of the House. However, these cannot be a substitute for committee deliberations as floor discussion lacks thorough analysis and also most MPs are not subject-matter experts.
- Brute Majority: By giving discretionary power to the Chair to decide whether the bill has to be sent to committee or not, the system has been especially rendered weak in a Lok Sabha where the ruling party has a brute majority.
- Sweden Model: In countries such as Sweden and Finland, all bills are sent to committees. In Australia, a selection of bills committee, which includes members from the Opposition, is tasked with identifying the bills that should go to committees.
- Need to uphold quality Governance & Parliament relevance: Scrutiny by Parliamentary Committees is necessary to uphold the quality of legislation, and by extension, the quality of governance in the country. A strong committee system is probably the only way to ensure Parliament’s relevance in the law-making process.