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Parliament, as a deliberative body, is overburdened by the task of discussion, proposals, motions and overseeing the administrative action of the experts with professional sophistication. Parliamentarians, on the other hand, find it difficult to deliberate adequately on such action, which results in patchy supervision of the administration. The various devices at Parliament's disposal, such as question hour and debates, do help maintain legislative control but are not adequate. To make parliamentary surveillance more effective and meaningful, Parliament needs an agency of its own in which the whole House has confidence. Also, there is need to make parliamentary work smooth, efficient and expeditious.These goals are achieved through parliamentary committees. They function as subordinate bodies created by Parliament to assist in its legislative work.
The Constitution does not make any special provision for parliamentary committees. The rationale behind this deliberate omission was to leave it to parliament to create such bodies according to time and needs.
A parliamentary committee differs from any other committee of Parliament. It may be defined as one that: (i) is appointed or elected by the House or nominated by the Speaker/Chairman; (ii) works under the direction of the Speaker/or Chairman; (iii) presents its report to the House —the Speaker/ Chairman; and (iv) has a secretariat provided by the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha Secretariat.
Type of committees
Parliamentary committees may be (i) ad hoc and (ii) non ad hoc or standing.
Ad hoc Committees
Ad hoc committees are constituted by the House to consider and report on a specific matter. They become 'functus officio' as soon as they have completed their work on these matters. Examples of ad hoc committees are select and joint committees on the bills, railway convention committee, on draft five years plan, committee on the conduct of a member, study committee on sports etc.
A select committee is constituted mainly for individual bills or investigation, inquiry or nominated by the Speaker. The Chairman is essentially appointed by the Speaker. But if the deputy Speaker is its member, he automatically becomes its Chairman. Onethird of its members make the quorum. Decisions are taken by majority vote system.
A joint committee is formed on 2:1 ratio of the members from the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Its main purpose is to check the duplication of proceedings in both House. It saves time and induces an appreciative and cooperative spirit among members of the House.
These are permanent committees, with their members elected by the House or nominated by the Speaker. They are constituted every year or from time to time.
There are 17 standing committees at present, which may be grouped in five categories, as follows;
(i) Financial committees: Committee on Estimates, Committee on Public Account, and Committee on Public Undertaking.
(ii) House committees: Committee on Absence of a Member, Business Advisory committee, Committee on Private Member's Bill and Resolution, and Rules Committee.
(iii) Enquiry commit tees: Committee on Petitions and Committee on Privileges.
(iii) Enquiry commit tees: Committee on Petitions and Committee on Privileges.
(iv) Scrutiny commit tees: Committee on Gov-ernment Assurances, Committee on Subordinate Legislation, Committee on Papers Laid on the Table, and Committee on Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
(v) Service Committees: related to the services and facilities to members. Important ones are: General Purposes Committee, Library Committee, Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament.
Important Standing committees
Parliament cannot discuss minute details of the tax proposal and expenditure. Although the major part of the budget session is devoted to discussing the tax proposals and expenditure, the discussion is neither conclusive nor exhaustive. To get over this lacuna, the financial committees make detailed scrutiny of governmental expenditure and performance.
The term of all financial committees is one year. No ministers can become their members. These committees do not deliberate upon the policy approved by Parliament. They examine only the administration ex-post facto. Another noticeable feature is that they are relatively autonomous and function within the rules set up by the Committees and approved by the Speaker.
It has 30 members elected from the Lok Sabha and none from the Rajya Sabha. Its functions are:
(i) to report what economies, improvement in organisation, efficiency of administrative reforms consistent with the policy underlying the estimates may be effected;
(ii) to suggest alternative policies in order to bring about efficiency and economy in administration;
(iii) to examine whether the money is well laid out within the limits of the policy implied in the estimates; and
(iv) to suggest the form in which the estimates should be presented to Parliament.
Public Accounts Committee (PAC)
It consists of 15 members from the Lok Sabha and 7 from the Rajya Sabha. Members are elected by proportional representation system, based on single transferable vote. An Opposition Party member generally holds the office of the Chairman of PAC.
The PAC examines the accounts of the sum granted by Parliament. It satisfies itself whether the sum was spent by the authorised agency and for the assigned purpose. It also examines the circumstances leading to excess expenditure over the money granted.
Committee on Public Undertaking (CO-PU)
It consists of 22 members—15 elected by the Lock Sabha and 7 from the Rajya Sabha. Since the
money invested in public undertakings is drawn from the Consolidated fund of India, it is necessary that Parliament should have adequate control over their affairs. The functions of COPU are: (i) to examine reports and accounts of public undertaking specified in the Fourth Schedule of the Rules of Procedure; (ii) to examine the reports of the CAG thereon, if any; (iii) to examine, in the context of the autonomy and efficiency of a public undertaking whether its affairs are managed in accordance with sound business principle and prudent commercial practices; and (iv) to exercise such other functions vested in the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee in relation to the Public Undertakings as are not covered above. The thrust is investigating the aspects of functioning rather than the policy approved by Parliament.
Additionally,the committee examines the cases of under assessment, tax evasion, non-levy of duties, misclassification etc. It also identifies the loopholes of the tax laws and suggests remedies to plug them.
The Comptroller and Accountant General assists the committee in its function and participates regularly in its meetings.
Business Advisory Committee
Both House have this committee. In the Lok Sabha, it has 15 members including the Speaker it has ten members including the chairman who is also the chairman of the Committee.
The committee recommends the time that should be allocated for the transaction of such government.
In the Rajya Sabha, this committee has the additional function of recommending the time to be allocated for the discussion of private members' bills and resolutions.
Committee on Private Member's Bills and Resolutions
This committee of the Lok Sabha has 15 members. The Deputy Speaker is its Chairman. The committee allots time to private members' bills and resolutions, and examines private members' bills seeking constitutional amendments.
Committee on Absence of Members from the Sittings of the House
The absence of a member for more than 60 days leads to his disqualification. So, to manage the affairs of a members' absence, a committee exists in the Lok Sabha with 15 members. The members forward their request for absence to this committee. In the Rajya Sabha, the House itself looks into the matter.
The Lok Sabha's Rules Committee has 15 members and the Rajya Sabha's Committee 10 members. The Speaker/Chairman of the House is its Chairman. The committee considers the matters of procedure and conduct of business in the House and recommends any amendments or addition to the rules that may be deemed to be necessary.
Committee on Petitions
The Lok Sabha Committee consists of 15 members and the Rajya Sabha Committee 10. The Committee examines the petitions to be referred to Parliament and suggest remedial action to redress the grievance and prevent such complaints in future.
Committee of Privileges
Breaches of parliamentary privileges occur, which, if not dealt with, can spoil the entire proceeding of Parliament. This breach is referred to the Committee of Privileges even though Parliament has full authority/competency to deal with it. The committee is constituted usually every year by the presiding officers of the respective houses. In the Lok Sabha, it consists of 15 members, and in the Rajya Sabha 10.
Committee on Government Assurance
While answering the MPs, the ministers make promises, assurances and undertakings. This committee watches the implementation of these assurances. The Lok Sabha Committee consists of 15 members, and in the Rajya Sabha 10.
Committee on Subordinate Legislation
This committee maintains a close vigil and check over the ways legislative power delegated to a subordinate agency or to an executive officer is exercised.
The committee of each House consists of 15 nominated members.
As a result of the extension of the activities of the State, the number of legislation has increased immensely. It is beyond the feasibility limit for Parliament to deliberate upon all the legislation made by it or add or subtract or form any new supplementary clauses to the Acts. To deal with it, Parliament delegates its powers of law-making to the executive. But this power is concerned only with minor matters of detail or with new provisions to accord strength to the existing statues.
Parliament watches the use or abuse of delegated legislative power at all stages. The usual safeguards are: defining the limit of delegation, laying down special procedure for law making, and giving adequate publicity to the rules made. Rules no 70 and 222 require the explanation of the rule and make it obligatory upon the executive to table the new provisions in Parliament.
Committee on Papers Laid on the Table
Government lays before parliament many papers, statements either as a statutory duty or in the process of answering questions. Such papers are generally dispatched to the respective committees but a bulk remains with the committee of papers to examine the details of the papers already laid in the House. The Lok Sabha committee has 15 members and that in the Rajya Sabha 10.
Committee on Welfare of SC and ST
The Constitution provides for safeguards and protection of the SCs and STs in the parliamentary system. There must be a mechanism to fulfil the enshrined goals. The committee ensures Government action in this regard. It examines the reports of the SC and ST Commissioner and ensured effective implementation of it by Parliament. The committee consists of 20 members from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha, elected by the respective House from amongst the members.
These committees ensure proper service to MPs, such as housing, library, conveyance, salaries, allowances, etc.
General Purposes Committee
Each House has its own committee, with its presiding officer as the ex-officio Chairman, plus Deputy Speaker/Deputy Chairman, Members of panels of Chairman, Leaders of recognised parties/ groups and such other members nominated by the presiding officer.
To oversee housing arrangements for its members each House constitutes a House Committee. The committee also examines the existing facilities of medical aid, food, etc.
The committee has five members from the Lok Sabha and three from the Rajya Sabha. It advises the Speaker on selection of books, reframing of library rules, etc.
Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of MPs
Initially constituted to frame Salaries and Allowances of Members of parliament Act, 1954, the committee has come to stay in Parliament. It ensures timely delivery of salaries and allowances of MPs. It consists of ten members from the Lok Sabha and five from the Rajya Sabha.
There are informal consultative committees attached to each Ministry. The members are nominated by the Ministry of parliamentary Affairs. Generally, political parties have their representatives in these committees. They act as a forum of informal discussions between the members, ministers and senior officials of Government on policy. The deliberation of these committees, being informal, are not referred to on the floor of Parliament. Assurances made by Government in these committees are not binding on it, hence there is hardly any practical effect of their deliberations.
Constitution of Committees
Parliamentary committees are formed both by the elected and appointed/nominated MPs. Members of all financial committees (PAC, Estimates Committee and Committee on Public undertaking), the Committee on Offices of Profit are elected every year by the members, according to the system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote.
All the remaining committees have their members nominated by the Chairman of that House.
Committees are constituted both by the House exclusively as well as by members of both Houses. Members of joint committees, PAC, Committee on Public Vndertakings, Committee on Welfare of SC and ST and Committee on Government Assurances are constituted with members from/ both Houses.
Representation to political parties and groups is an important feature of Parliamentary committees. Also, there are a few conventions followed in this regard. For example, PAC is conventionally headed by a member of the opposition party.
The Speaker appoints the Chairman of the committee from amongst its members. If the presiding officer himself is a member of the same is the provision when the Deputy Chairman is a member of the committee.
Term of a Committee
Normally, a committee holds office for one year. But standing committees may remain in function even after one year till the constitution of a new committee.
In case no term is assigned to a committee, it holds office till the work assigned is completed, after which it becomes functus officio.
Comptroller and Auditor General
Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) controls the entire financial system of the country [Art. 148]– at the Union as well as State levels. In order to discharge this duty properly, it is highly essential that this office should be independent of any control of the Executive. Hence this office is an autonomous institution.
Part V, Chapter V of the Constitution discusses the mode of appointment and the powers of the CAG.
The CAG is appointed by the President of India.
Term of Office
The Constitution has not prescribed the tenure of the CAG. But Parliament has fixed it as six years.
He may be asked to vacate the office even earlier if he has completed 65 years of age.
He may, at any time, resign his office by writing under his hand addressed to the President of India. He may be removed by impeachment [Arts. 148 (1); 124 (4)].
The CAG can be removed under the same procedure as that for a judge of the Supreme Court that is, an address passed by each House by majority and by a majority of two-thirds of that House present and voting can remove him. The removal is only on grounds of (i) proved misbehaviour; or (ii) incapacity.
CAG gets salary which is equal to the salary of a Supreme Court judge. His salary and expenses of the office are charged from the Consolidated Fund of India and, therefore, not subject to Parliament's vote.
The Constitution ensures the independence of CAG in the following ways:
(i) Though appointed by the President, the Comptroller and Auditor-general may be removed only on an address from both Houses of Parliament, on the grounds of proved misbehaviour, or incapacity;
(ii) His salary and conditions of service shall be statutory (i.e., as laid down by Parliament by law) and shall not be liable to variation to his disadvantages during his term of office;
(iii) He is disqualified for any further Government office after retirement;
(iv) His salary and other expenditures are charged upon the Consolidated Fund of Indian and thus shall be non- votable.
Powers and functions
Accounting and auditing are two important functions of the CAG. According to arts. 149 to 151, the duties of CAG are:
(i) To audit and report on all expenditure from the Consolidated Fund of India and of each State and each Union Territory having a Legislative Assembly as to whether such expenditure has been in accordance with the law:
(ii) Similarly, to audit and report of all expenditure from the Contingency Funds and Public Accounts of the Union and of the States;
(iii) To audit and report on all trading, manufacturing, profit and loss accounts, etc., kept by any Department of the Union or a State;
(iv) To audit the receipts and expenditure of the Union and of each State to satisfy himself that the rules and procedures in that behalf are designed to secure an effective check on the assessment collection and proper allocation of revenue;
(v) To audit and report on the receipts and expenditure of
(a) all bodies and authorities 'substantially financed' from the Union or State revenues;
(b) Government companies;
(c) other corporations or bodies, when so required by the laws relating to such cor porations or bodies.