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Departmentally related Standing Committees of Parliament : A background note
by Subhash C. Jain*

Cite as : (2000) 8 SCC (Jour) 13

There had been a demand for setting up Departmentally Related Standing Committees of Parliament since the Fourth Lok Sabha. This is evident from the statement of Mr George Fernandes made during the debate of the Third Report of the Rules Committee on 29-3-1993 (Tenth Lok Sabha).

Initially, three Parliamentary Standing Subject Committees were constituted on 2-5-1989 for the Ministries of Agriculture, Science and Technology and Environment and Forests respectively by amending the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha. Later on, in pursuance of recommendations of the Rules Committee, Departmentally Related Parliamentary Committees were constituted with effect from 8-4-1993. The proposals for amendment of these Rules were examined by the Rules Committee. The provisions relating to the Rules Committee are contained in Rules 329 and 331 of the aforesaid Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business.

In its First Report to the Tenth Lok Sabha, the Rules Committee stated that to "make the parliamentary activity more effective, to make the executive more accountable and to avail of the expert and public opinion whenever necessary a beginning had been made" by setting up three Subject Committees. The Committee further noted that there "still remained important areas of governmental activities encompassed by the new system" and hence the Committee recommended "a full-fledged system of Departmentally Related Standing Committees ... covering under their jurisdiction all the ministries/departments of the Union Government ...". These Committees were also to replace the three Subject Committees. The Rules Committee recommended that the Standing Committees should, inter alia consider:

(i) the demands for grants of the ministries concerned and make a report on the same to the Lok Sabha within a period of one month;

(ii) such Bills pertaining to the ministries concerned as are referred to by the Speaker and make report thereon to the House;

(iii) the papers on basic, major and important policies referred to them by the Speaker and report thereon to the House;

(iv) the annual reports and the reports on the implementation of the policies and make their reports thereon to the House; and

(v) other matters of the ministries concerned referred to them by the Speaker.

The Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha were amended accordingly.1

The Rules Committee considered the whole matter afresh during its sitting held on 22-12-1992 and in the light of the suggestions received from the members felt that "being a pioneering venture, the system ought to be a more based one, than hitherto recommended". The Committee also held a joint sitting with the Rules Committee of the Rajya Sabha on 11-3-1993. Some of the significant changes noticed from the amended Rules appended to the Committee's Report are as under:

(i) A proviso has been added to Rule 331-C to the effect that the Chairman, Rajya Sabha and the Speaker may modify the allocation of ministries/departments to various Committees from time to time in consultation with each other.

(ii) While Rule 331-D (3) earlier provided that the Chairman of the Committees shall be appointed by the Speaker from amongst the members of the Committee, the Rule as amended provides that Chairmen of five Committees specified in Part I of the Fifth Schedule shall be appointed by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the Chairmen of ten Committees specified in Part II of the Schedule shall be appointed by the Speaker from amongst the members of the Committees.

(iii) While Rule 331-E (2) of the earlier Rules provided that the Standing Committees shall not consider the formulation of the ordinary policies and day-to-day administration of the ministries concerned, the rule as amended omits reference to "formulation of the ordinary policies". In this respect, therefore, the jurisdiction of the Standing Committees appears to have been widened.

(iv) Earlier, Rule 331-G(a) required the Committees to follow the following procedure for the examination of Bills: "After the general principles underlying the Bill have been considered by the House, the Committees shall consider the general principles and the clauses of the Bills and make their report to the House." Clause (a) of Rule 331-G has now been amended, thus: "After the general discussion on the Budget in the Houses is over, the Houses shall be adjourned for a fixed period." This amendment is in the right direction and would facilitate detailed discussion of the budget proposals in the Standing Committee.

(v) As far as the functions of the Committees are concerned, the provision "to consider the papers on basic, major, important policies referred to the Committee by the Speaker and report thereon" has been replaced by the stipulation "to consider national basic long-term policy documents presented to the Houses, if referred to the Committee by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, as the case may be, and make reports thereon". Thus the emphasis has now been laid on discussing long-term national-level policy matters.

(vi) The provision that the Committees shall not consider the Secret Bills, Finance Bills and the Appropriation Bills has been omitted in the amended Rules.

(vii) A specific provision has been made in Rule 331-A to the effect that the reports of the Committees shall be based on broad consensus. However, a member of a Standing Committee may give note of dissent on the report of the Committee and the same shall be presented to the Houses along with the report.

The reasons for the changes made in the Rules have not been elaborated in the Second Report of the Rules Committee. Some further changes were made in pursuance of the Third Report which are not very significant. However, as suggested by some of the members, the Rules Committee agreed that there should be seventeen Departmentally Related Standing Committees instead of fifteen Committees. It agreed that there should be a separate Committee for the Ministry of Labour and Welfare and two separate Committees for the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Accordingly, seventeen Standing Committees are in existence, at present, having "jurisdiction" over various ministries and departments.

It may be noted that a Minister is barred from being nominated as a member of a Standing Committee, and if a member after his nomination to the Committee becomes a Minister, he ceases to be a member of the Committee from the date of his appointment. Other important features of the Committees are as under:

(i) While giving a report on the demands for grants of the ministries/departments concerned, no suggestion will be made in the nature of cut motions.

(ii) The Standing Committees shall not consider matters of day-to-day administration of the ministries/departments.

(iii) The Committees shall make their reports within the fixed time and shall not ask for more time.

(iv) There shall be a separate report on the demands for grants for each ministry.

(v) Unless specifically permitted by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker of the Lok Sabha the Standing Committees cannot work in any other place except the precincts of Parliament House.

(vi) The Standing Committees shall not generally consider matters which are being considered by other Parliamentary Committees.

(vii) The reports of the Standing Committees will have persuasive value and recommendations made therein shall be treated as considered advice of the Committees concerned.

The reason as to why a Minister has been barred from becoming a member of the Standing Committees is not clear from reports of the Rules Committee. It may be mentioned in contrast that in Kerala where similar Committees are in existence, it is the Minister who normally presides over the Subject Committees.

While inaugurating the Standing Committees on 31-3-1993, the then Vice-President and Chairman, Rajya Sabha, Mr K.R. Narayanan, indicated that similar system of Departmentally Related Select Committees was in existence in the United Kingdom since 1979 and this system had resulted in increased flow of information. According to him, one important impact of this system had been the general toning of debates2.

From a perusal of the debate on the Third Report of the Rules Committee in the Lok Sabha on 31-3-1993, it is evident that the new Committee system was generally appreciated though there was some scepticism initially as three Ministers and a number of Members of Parliament gave notices of amendment under Rule 331 of the Rules of Procedure to the recommendations of the Rules Committee.

During the debate mentioned, one of the Members Mr Amal Datta asked whether the Committee could discuss "any activity, programme and project of the department"3. This signifies that some Members envisaged a very major role for these Committees. In a parliamentary democracy, Mr Amal Datta's query may be legitimate. However, it may be equally important to bear in mind that India has a written Constitution under which responsibilities of executive, legislative and judicial organs of the Union of India have been expressly laid down. The provisions relating to budgetary control or control in other spheres are specifically laid down in the Constitution. Whereas the powers of the British Parliament are undefined, those of the Indian Parliament are defined. The Indian Parliament has to function within the Constitution from which its legislative powers emanate. By Article 245(1), the legislative power of Parliament has been specifically made subject to the provisions of the Constitution. Our Constitution does not give any general powers of surveillance to Parliament over the executive. Article 73(3) of the Constitution provides that the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the House of the People. Article 77(3) provides that the President shall make rules for the more convenient transaction of the business of the Government of India and for the allocation among Ministers of the said business. Accordingly, the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 have been framed. Thus, according to the scheme of the Constitution, Ministers in charge of the ministries concerned would be responsible for the overall administration of the work allocated to their ministries. However, in the amendments proposed by the Rules Committee the Ministers are not to be even members of the Standing Committees. Unlike the Consultative Committees attached to various ministries which are informal in nature and are presided over by the Ministers concerned, the meetings of the Standing Committees under consideration are presided over by private members.

It may be observed that initiative for any legislative action has to be taken by the Government and only after a Bill is introduced in the Houses of Parliament, there would be an occasion for the Members to deliberate in the matter. There is no suo motu power in Parliament to legislate. The functions which have not specifically been entrusted to the legislatures or the judiciary under the provisions of the Constitution would belong to the executive. This has been declared so in Jayantilal Amratlal Shodhan v. F. N. Rana4.

In Asif Hameed v. State of J& K5 also, the Supreme Court very forcefully emphasised the doctrine of separation of powers as under:

"Although the doctrine of separation of powers has not been recognised under the Constitution in its absolute rigidity but the Constitution-makers have meticulously defined the functions of various organs of the State. Legislature, executive and judiciary have to function within their own spheres demarcated under the Constitution. No organ can usurp the functions assigned to another. The Constitution trusts to the judgment of these organs to function and exercise their discretion by strictly following the procedure prescribed therein. The functioning of democracy depends upon the strength and independence of each of its organs."6

The residuary power vests with the executive.

The Departmentally Related Standing Committees can, play their legitimate role within the limits of the Constitution. It has been noticed that over the years, the volume of business transacted by Parliament has steadily declined. The Lok Sabha did not have adequate time to analyse the demands for grants of the various ministries and departments since much of its time was consumed in discussion of other matters. The practice of guillotining became prevalent and demands for grants were passed without much deliberation and debate.7 The Committee system is inter alia intended to cure this defect. The then Speaker of the Lok Sabha Mr Shivraj Patil, noted:

"The greatest achievement of this Committee system is that out of a budget for Rs 2 lakh crores we used to pass in this House, discussion could take place only on grants for 30 or 40 thousand crore only, remaining budget was guillotined. After appointment of these Committees at least 45 Members withheld discussion on the demands for grants of each department and demands for grants of no ministry will be passed without discussion."8

Thus a serious debate on demands for grants of the ministries and departments within the Departmentally Related Standing Committees can enable them to assume for themselves the pivotal role in giving a direction to management of finances of the nation.

In the legislative field also, the above Committees can play an important role provided that important legislative agenda is not unduly delayed. It appears that a convention has gradually emerged whereby a number of Bills especially the important ones are likely to be referred to the respective Standing Committees. Many a times no time-frame for the submission of the report, is insisted upon at the stage of referral. This may lead to unavoidable delays in finalising the reports of the Committees. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha could possibly indicate the time within which the report should be given depending on the importance of the legislative proposal.

The Rules may be amended to enable the meetings of the Committees to be presided over by the Ministers concerned. This may given an impetus to the control of the Committee. There may be no difficulty in making this provision if the Standing Committees meet during the period when the Houses stand adjourned.

*    LLM PhD, Member-Secretary, Law Commission of India. The views expressed here are those of the author. Return to Text

  1. See First Report of the Rules Committee, Lok Sabha Secretariat (August 1992). Return to Text
  2. Lok Sabha Debates, dated 31-3-1993, col. 625. Return to Text
  3. Lok Sabha Debates dated 31-3-1993, col. 625. Return to Text
  4. AIR 1964 SC 648. The Supreme Court explained the position at p. 655 thus: "... it is now well settled that functions which do not fall strictly within the field legislative or judicial, fall in the residuary class and must be regarded as executive". Return to Text
  5. 1989 Supp (2) SCC 364. Return to Text
  6. Ibid at p. 373. Return to Text
  7. See Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay's "Are they serving their purpose?" Hindustan Times Sunday Magazine (20-4-1997), p. 1. Return to Text
  8. Lok Sabha Debates, dated 29-3-1993, col. 632. Return to Text
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