KP Singh, Director, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, 201, Second Floor, Parliament House Annexe, New Delhi -110001. These may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
. The Committee will examine the written memoranda. They will also invite some experts and stakeholders for oral evidence. Based on its examination, the committee will prepare a report with its recommendations on the various provisions of the Bill. This report will be tabled in Parliament. Is the report decided by voting?
No. The committee tries to form a consensus while preparing the report. However, if some members do not agree on any point, they may add a dissent note. For example, the committee on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill had dissent notes written by MPs from the left parties. The Women’s Reservation Bill also had dissent notes from a couple of members. Are the committee’s recommendations binding?
No. The Committee system was formed recognising that Parliament does not have the time for detailed examination and public feedback on all bills. Parliament, therefore, delegates this task to the committee which reports back with its recommendations. It is the role of all MPs in each House of Parliament to examine the recommendations and move suitable amendments. Following this, Parliament can vote on these amendments, and finalise the Bill. Can you give examples when the Committee’s work has resulted in significant changes?
There are many such instances. For example, the standing committee on science and technology examined the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill. The committee made several recommendations, some of which increased the potential liability of suppliers of nuclear equipment in case of an accident. All the recommendations were accepted. Similarly, the Seeds Bill, which is currently pending in Rajya Sabha has seen several major recommendations by the Committee on Agriculture. The government has agreed to move amendments that accept many of these recommendations. Are all Bills referred to Standing Committees?
Most Bills are referred to such committees but this is not a mandatory requirement before passing a Bill. In some cases, if a Bill is not referred to a committee and passed by one House, the other House may constitute a select committee for detailed examination. Some recent examples include such select committees formed by the Rajya Sabha on the Prevention of Torture Bill, the Wakf Amendment Bill, and the Commercial Divisions of High Courts Bill. There are also some instances when a Bill may be passed without the committee process. Is it a good idea to bypass the committee process?
In general, this process provides a platform for various stakeholders to provide their inputs. In the Lok Pal case, a few influential groups such as the India Against Corruption (IAC) and the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) have voiced their views. However, there may be other points of views of persons who do not have similar access to the media. The Standing Committee provides equal opportunity to everyone to write in their memoranda. It also allows parliamentarians to devote a significant amount of time to understand the nuances of a Bill and make suitable modifications. Thus, the standing committee system is an opportunity to strengthen legislation in an informed and participatory manner. Is it feasible to compress this process within 10 days and get the Lok Pal Bill passed within the current session of Parliament?
There should be sufficient time for citizens to provide inputs to the committee. The committee has to examine the different points of view and find suitable provisions to achieve the final objectives. For example, there are divergent views on the role of Lok Pal, its constitution, its jurisdiction etc. The Committee has to understand the implications of the various proposals and then make its recommendations. It has been given three months to do so. Typically, most committees ask for an extension and take six to eight months. It is not practical to expect this process to be over within 10 days. Should civil society demand that the government issue a whip and pass the Jan Lok Pal Bill?
Everyone has the right to make any demand. However, the government is duty bound to follow the Constitution. Our Constitution has envisaged a Parliamentary system. Each MP is expected to make up their minds on each proposal based on their perception of national interest and people’s will. Indeed, one may say that the best way to ensure a representative system is to remove the anti-defection law, minimise the use of whips, and let MPs vote their conscience. That may give us a more accountable government.