Nearly a month on, no word on new parliamentary panels

Opposition calls it a subversion of Parliament

Nearly a month after the tenure of the parliamentary standing committees ended on September 12, there is no word on reconstitution of these panels, with sources pointing it to bureaucratic delays.

Opposition leaders stated that the delay was yet another way to subvert an important parliamentary instrument.

The government has a tardy record in the constitution of the panels. In 2019, the committees were constituted in October, nearly five month late. In 2014, the panels were notified on September 1, less than three months after the process was started. In 2009, during the UPA term, it was notified on August 31. And in 2004, it was constituted by August 5.

Even though the composition of the committees largely remain the same, yet every year, more than a month is spent in renominating the panels.

Submission of lists

The sources said political parties took a long while in submitting their list of nominees and the BJP was the last to submit the list.

Rajya Sabha floor leader of Trinamool Congress (TMC) Derek O’ Brien pointed out that the number of legislations scrutinised by the parliamentary panels had declined under the present regime. In 14th and 15th Lok Sabha during the UPA years, 60 and 71 per cent of legislations were vetted by the standing committees. In comparison to this, the figures for the 16th Lok Sabha was 25 per cent and the current one a dismal 11 per cent. “With these figures do you think Modi-Shah’s BJP cares two hoots about the standing committees.”

RJD MP Manoj K Jha observed that the delay was a textbook example of the government’s approach towards Parliament and the instruments attached to it.

Congress Lok Sabha member and senior leader Manish Tewari alleged that the government had broken several conventions, including the one on leaving the committees on External Affairs and Finance for the Opposition to lead. “This convention has been in place keeping in view the parliamentary practice of providing checks and balances to everyday functioning of the government through legislative oversight.” The practice of circulating verbatim minutes of the meeting of the standing committees had also been dispensed with, he noted.

Participation in meetings

Accepting that the delay imposed unnecessary pause on the functioning of the parliamentary panels, BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab questioned the limited and indifferent participation in the panel meetings. “How many members actually take part in these deliberations. The panel chairpersons are supposed to inform the presiding officer of the House if a member remains absent for three consecutive meetings, but I believe that even the floor leaders of the respective parties should be alerted about such errant MPs,” he remarked.

A recent analysis of 361 meetings held over the last one year by the Rajya Sabha secretariat has put up grim numbers. The average attendance of MPs in these meetings was 46 per cent. A party-wise analysis showed that the average attendance of 92 BJP members in the Rajya Sabha was 57 per cent, while the same for 38 Congress members was 42 per cent. The average attendance of the TMC MPs was just 24. 4 per cent.

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