Parliament of India
Parliament is the supreme legislative body of a country.The Parliament of the Indian Union consists of two Houses: the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People).
These two houses and the President together constitute the Parliament of India. The object behind the creation of the Rajya Sabha is to provide for a second chamber so that legislation passed by one House can be reviewed and altered if needed by the other
Rajya Sabha is a continuing chamber as it is a permanent body not subject to dissolution. One-third of its members retire at the end of every two years and elections are held for the vacant positions. A member of Rajya Sabha has a six year term, unless he resigns or is disqualified.
Lok Sabha is the lower or the popular chamber of the Indian Parliament. Under the Constitution not more than 525 members are to be chosen by direct election from territorial constituencies in the States and not more than 20 members to represent the Union Territories. In addition, two members of the Anglo-Indian community may be nominated by the President if he is of the opinion that the community is not adequately represented in the Lok Sabha.
The President has the right to summon, prorogue and dissolve the Parliament. The power to dissolve and to prorogue is exercised by the President on the advice of his Council of Ministers. The dissolution brings the life of Lok Sabha to an end while prorogation merely terminates a session. Adjournment does not put an end to the existence of a session but merely postpones further transaction of business for a specified time, whereas prorogation puts an end to all business except Pending Bills.
Each house of Parliament has its own presiding officers. Lok Sabha has a Speaker as its principal presiding officer and a Deputy Speaker to assist him and officiate as presiding officer in his absence. The Rajya Sabha is presided over by the Chairperson, assisted by a Deputy Chairperson. The latter performs all the duties and functions of the former in case of his/her absence.
The Speaker of the Lok Sabha enjoys very wide and extensive powers. The Speaker presides over the sitting of the Lok Sabha and conducts the proceedings, maintains order and decorum in the House and decides points of order, interprets and applies rules of the House.
The Speaker represents the whole House and it is on his impartiality that the success of parliamentary polity depends. Whenever the Speaker is absent, the Deputy Speaker presides over the deliberations of the House and exercise all the powers of the Speaker under the Rules of Procedure.
The Vice-President of India is the ex-officio Chairperson of the Council of States; but during any period when the Vice-President acts as President or discharges the functions of the President, he does not perform the duties of the office of the Chieftain of the Council of States. The Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha is assisted by a Deputy Chairperson chosen from the Council of States from amongst its members.
Power and Functions of Parliament
Under the cabinet system of government, the first function of Parliament is to select the group which will form the government, support, and sustain it in power as long as it enjoys its confidence. The second function of the Parliament is to make laws for the country. The third function of Parliament is to control the purse of the nation. The fourth function of Parliament is the scrutiny and control of administration.
The fifth function of Parliament is to serve as a kind of Constituent Assembly when necessary to amend the Constitution through the procedure laid down for the purpose. The sixth function of Parliament is to serve as an electoral college to elect the President and the Vice-President.
Privileges of Members of Parliament
Both the Houses of Parliament as well as of a State Legislature have similar privileges under the Constitution. The privileges of each House may be divided into two groups: (i) those enjoyed by the members individually and (ii) those which belong to each House of Parliament as a collective body.
Privileges of Individual Members
(i) Freedom from Arrest:
Section 135A of the C.P. code, as amended by Act 104 of 1976 exempts a member from arrest during the continuance of a meeting of the Chamber or Committee of which he is a member or of a joint sitting of the Chambers or Committee, and during a period of 40 days before and after such meeting or sitting, in civil or original cases.
This privilege also means that no member can be arrested within the precincts of the Parliament without the permission of the House to which he belongs. A member can be arrested outside the walls of the House on cases under Preventive Detention or Maintenance of Internal Security or any other such Act.
It is, however, the duty of the arresting officer that he should immediately inform the presiding officer of the House to with the member belongs about arrest, bail or release of the member concerned. The main idea behind this privilege is that the members of the House should not be unnecessarily detained by the executive government and the constituents are not denied proper representation.
(ii) Freedom of Attendance as Witnesses:
According the English practice, a member cannot be summoned, without the leave of the House, to give evidence as a witness while Parliament is in session.
(iii) Freedom of Speech:
While an ordinary citizen’s right of speech is subject to the restrictions specified in Art. 19 (2) such as the law relating to defamation, a member of Parliament cannot be made liable in any court of law in respect of anything said in Parliament or any Committee thereof.
The freedom of speech is, however, subject to the rules framed by the House under its powers to regulate its internal procedure. The dignity of the House must be preserved. The Constitution itself imposes another limitation upon the freedom of speech in Parliament, namely, that no discussion shall take place in Parliament with respect to the conduct of any judge of the Supreme Court or a High Court in the discharge of his duties except upon a motion for presenting an address to the President praying for the removal of the judge.
Privileges are certain rights belonging to each House of Parliament. Both the House of Parliament as well as of a state legislature have similar privileges under the Constitution of India. Clauses (1) (2) of Article 105 deal with two matters, viz., freedom of speech and right of publication.
(i) The right to publish debates and proceedings and the right to restrain publication by others.
(ii) The right to exclude others.
(iii) The right to regulate the internal affairs of the House, and to decide matters arising within its walls.
(iv) The right to punish Parliamentary misbehavior.
(v) The right to punish members and outsiders for breach of its privileges.
As a deliberative body, Parliament cannot cope with detailed serious work amidst a large number of members in a dispassionate manner. Specially in modern times, there is too much of a burden on the Parliament. Thus the committee system comes in useful for it enables detailed discussion of various matters in small groups something that is cumbersome and non-productive in a large group.
The committees make parliamentary work smooth, efficient and expeditious. They also provide a certain expertise to the deliberations of Parliament. It must, however, be noted that committees are subordinate bodies created by Parliament to assist in its legislative work.
Nature of Parliamentary Committees
A parliamentary committee is a committee which is appointed or elected by the House or nominated by the Speaker and which works under the direction of the Speaker and presents its report to the House or to the Speaker.
Parliamentary committees are of different types. Broadly speaking there are (1) Ad Hoc Committees, and (2) Standing or Non-Ad Hoc Committees. Ad Hoc Committees may be constituted from time to time, by either House, to inquire into and report on specific subjects, or they may be committees set up to advise the House, such as those appointed to consider and report on a specific Bill. The Standing Committees may be classified according to their functions. The Committees may also be classified in the following manner.
1. There are consultative committees for different ministries which provide a forum for discussion on the policies and working of the ministries.
2. There are the select committees or joint select committees on individual bills for investigation or inquiry.
3. Sometimes, the Parliament may appoint a committee for a specific purpose or to study a particular question like the Committee for the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
4. There are committees to enquire into various matters like the Committee of Petitions and Committee of Privileges. The committees to scrutinise are the Committee of Government Assurances and Committee on Subordinate Legislation.
5. Some committees are of administrative character relating to business of the House like (a) Committee on Absence of Members from the sittings of the House, (b) Business Advisory Committee, and (c) Rules Committee.
6. A few committees are concerned with the facilities of members of Parliament like the House Committee and Library Committee.
7. Finally, the most important committees are the three financial committees (a) the Estimates Committee, (b) the Public Accounts Committee, and (c) the Committee on Public Undertakings.
The Ad Hoc Committees
The usual ad hoc committees are Select/Joint Committees on Bills and the Railway Convention Committee. The Committee on the Draft Five Year Plans, Committee on the Conduct of a member, Study Committee on Sports etc,. are some of the ad hoc committees constituted in the past.
Select Committees are appointed on individual Bills and for making some investigation, inquiry or compilation. Members of a Select Committee are appointed or elected by the House itself or nominated by the Speaker. The willingness of the members desired to serve on the committee is ascertained before a proposal for appointment or nomination is made.
The Chairman is appointed by the Speaker from among its members, but if the Deputy Speaker happens to be a member of the committee, he shall be appointed Chairman. One-third of the total membership constitutes the quorum and a majority vote determines the decision of a committee. The chairman is entitled to a casting vote in case of a tie.
In order to avoid duplication of proceedings a Bill may be referred to a Joint Committee composed of members of both Houses. A Joint Committee also saves time and helps to bring about and develop good understanding, an appreciative spirit and cooperation between the representatives of both the Houses.
A motion for the appointment of a joint commit and reference of a Bill to such a committee after being carried out in the originating House is transmitted to the other House for its concurrence. The member-in-charge of a Bill indicates the number and names of the members constituting the committee from the House to which he belongs as also the number of the members from the other House. The proportion of members from the House of the People and the Council of States is two to one.
The Standing Committees
Lok Sabha has the following 18 Standing Parliamentary Committees with membership indicated against each. Business Advisory Committee (15); Committee of Privileges (15); committee on absence of Members from the Sitting of the House (15); Committee on Estimates (30); Committee on Government Assurances (15); Committee on Paper Laid on the Table (15); Committee on Petitions (15); Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions (15); Committee on Public Account (22); Committee on Public Undertakings (22); Committee on Subordinate Legislation (15); Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (30); General Purpose Committee (29); House Committee (12); Joint Committee on Offices of Profit (15); Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament (15); Library Committee (9); Rules Committee (15).
No member is to be appointed or nominated or elected to a Committee unless he is willing to serve on it.
The Speaker, Lok Sabha, nominates members to Business Advisory Committee, Committee of Privileges, Committee on Absence of Members from the Sitting of the House, Committee on Government Assurances, Committee on Papers Laid on the Table, Committee on Petitions, Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions, Committee on Subordinate Legislation, General Purpose Committee, House Committee and Rules Committee in pursuance of the provisions of rules governing these Committees.
Ten members of Lok Sabha and five members of Rajya Sabha are nominated by the Speaker, Lok Sabha, and the Chairman, Rajya Sabha, respectively, to the Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament.
As far as possible, different Parties and Groups are represented on a committee in proportion of their respective strength in the House. As such a Committee is a microcosm of the whole House.
Members of Rajya Sabha are also associated with the Committee on Public Accounts, Committee on Public Undertakings and Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, for which necessary Motions are moved in and adopted by both the Houses. The Joint Committee on Offices of Profit consists of 15 members-10 elected from Lok Sabha and five elected from Rajya Sabha. It is constituted in pursuance of a motion moved in and adopted by both the Houses. It continues in office for the duration of a Lok Sabha.
Casual vacancies in a Parliament Committee are filled by appointment or election by the House on a motion made, or nomination by the Speaker, as the case may be and any member appointed, elected or nominated to fill such vacancy shall hold office for the unexpired portion of the term for which the member in whose place he is appointed, elected or nominated would have held office.
A member may resign from the Committee by writing under his hand addressed to the Speaker.
If a member remains absent from two or more consecutive sittings of the Committee without the permission of the Chairman of the Committee, he may be discharged from the Committee by the House Speaker.
The Chairmen of all the Parliamentary Committees are appointed by the Speaker, from amongst the members of the Committee. In case, the Speaker is a member of the Committee, he is ex officio Chairman of that Committee. In Case the Speaker is not a member of the Committee, but the Deputy Speaker is, he is appointed as Chairman of that Committee.
The Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament elects its own Chairman. In case of the Committee on Public Accounts, as per established convention a member belonging to major Opposition Parties/Groups is appointed Chairman of the Committee by rotation.
Parliamentary Committees hold office for a period of one year or for a period specified by the Speaker/by the motion or until a new Committee is nominated. The members nominated to the Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament, hold office for a period of one year from the date of their nominations.
One-third of the total number of members of the Committee is required for the quorum to constitute a sitting of the Committee. In the absence of the required quorum, the Chairman either suspends the sitting until there is quorum or adjourns the sitting to some future day. In the event of a Committee being adjourned for-two successive sittings on account of lack of quorum, the Chairman has to report the fact to the Speaker when the Committee has been appointed by him or else to the House.
The Estimates Committee consists of 30 members—all from Lok Sabha— who are elected by Lok Sabha every year from among its members according to the principle of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote. This system of election ensures that each Party/Group is represented on the Committee in proportion to its strength in Lok Sabha.
The Chairman of the Committee is appointed by the Speaker from amongst the member of Lok Sabha elected to the Committee.
The functions of the Committee are—(a) to report what economies, improvements in organisation, efficiency or administrative reform, consistent with the policy underlying the estimates, may be effected; (b) to suggest alternative policies in order to bring about efficiency and economy in administration; (c) to examine whether the money is well laid out within the limits of the policy implied in the estimates; and (d) to suggest the form in which estimates shall be presented to Parliament.
The Committee may examine such of the estimates as may deem fit to the Committee or are specifically referred to it by the House or the Speaker. Public Undertakings allotted to the Committee on Public Undertakings either under the Rules of Procedure of Lok Sabha or by the Speaker are outside the purview of the Estimates Committee.
The Committee does not go against the policy approved by Parliament; but where it is established on evidence that a particular policy is not leading to the expected or desired results or is leading to waste, it is the duty of the Committee to bring to the notice of the House that a change in policy is called for.
The examination by the Committee of the estimates for the Ministries/Departments of Government is a continuing exercise throughout the financial year and the Committee reports to the House as its examination proceeds. It is not incumbent on the Committee to examine the entire estimates in any one year. The Demands for Grants may be finally voted even though the Committee has made no report.
Public Accounts Committee
The Public Accounts Committee consists of 15 Members elected by Lok Sabha every year from amongst its members according to the principle of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote. Seven members of Rajya Sabha elected by the House in like manner are associated with the Committee. This system of election ensures that each Party/ Group is represented on the Committee in proportion to its respective strength in the two Houses.
The chairman of the committee is appointed by the Speaker from amongst the members of Lok Sabha elected to the Committee.
The term of office of the members of the Committee is one year.
The Public Accounts Committee examines the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by Parliament to meet the expenditure of the Government of India, the annual Finance Accounts of the Government of India and such other accounts laid before the House as the Committee may think fit.
Apart from the Reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India on Appropriation Accounts of the Union Government, the Committee examines two Reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General on Revenue Receipts—one relating to Direct Taxes and the other relating to Indirect Taxes.
The Committee, however, does not examine the accounts relating to such public undertakings as are allotted to the Committee on Public Undertakings.
While scrutinising the Appropriation accounts of the Government of India and the Reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General thereon, it is the duty of the Committee to satisfy itself that the moneys shown in the accounts as having been disbursed were legally available for, and applicable to, the service or purpose to which they have been applied or charged; that the expenditure conforms to the authority which governs it; and that every re-appropriation has been made in accordance with the provisions made in this behalf under rules framed by competent authority.
An important function of the Committee is to ascertain that money granted by the Parliament has been spent by Government “within the scope of the demand”. The function of the Committee extends “beyond the formality of expenditure to its wisdom, faithfulness and economy”. The Committee thus examines cases involving losses, nugatory expenditure and financial irregularities.
While scrutinising the Reports of Comptroller and Auditor-General on Revenue Reports, the Committee examines various aspects of Government’s tax administration. The Committee, thus, examines cases involving under-a