What are DRSCs?
- Department Related Standing Committees or DRSCs are committees, consisting of Members of Parliament, for in-depth consideration of proposed legislations.
- The need for DRSCs in law-making was felt for many years before the first 3 standing committees were formed in 1989. Later, 17 DRSCs were constituted in 1993 to strengthen the government’s accountability to the Parliament.
- Each committee has 31 members nominated by the Speaker of Lok Sabha or the Chairman of Rajya Sabha. The members are from both Houses of the Parliament– with 21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha i.e. a ratio of 2:1.
- Currently, there are 24 such committees– 8 of which are under the Chairman’s jurisdiction and the remaining 16 are under the Speaker.
- Examination of legislations referred to it
- Examination of budget proposals from different ministries
- Framing policy on the vision, mission and future direction of ministries
Why are these committees necessary?
- It isn’t obligatory for governments to refer each Bill to these committees, however, both national and international experience shows that referring Bills to DRSCs is useful in lawmaking.
- Bills that aren’t referred to DRSCs risk incomplete examination, especially from the perspectives of the stakeholders, during the legislative process and may remain merely a bureaucratically conceived piece of legislation.
- This can be seen from the case of the 3 Farm Laws which were passed without going through the DRSC and ended up being withdrawn later.
- While it is true that many factors contributed to the failure of the 3 Farm Laws, it needs to be understood that examination of the Bills by such committees if more to the government’s benefit than the Opposition’s.
- This is because the tenor and the ambience of discussions in the Parliament is different from that in DRSCs. The committee meetings take place in a relatively congenial atmosphere.
- The deliberations in DRSCs tend to add value to the legislation’s content and in most cases, the committee members, across party-lines, strive towards consensus.
- Also, in most of these committees, the government holds a majority and the final call is by the process of majority voting.
- These committee have access to experts’ and stakeholders’ opinions– ensuring the framing of well-informed pieces of legislation.
How far are these committee used?
- The percentage of Bills referred to such committees are:
- 14th Lok Sabha (2004-09) – 60%
- 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14) – 71%
- 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19) – 27%
- The drop in percentage during the 16th Lok Sabha occurred mainly in the latter half of the session, when the government was hurriedly pushing its big ticket reforms and the Opposition was attempting to stall them, given the high stakes involved in the 2019 elections.
- However, in the recently concluded monsoon session, which was adjourned sine die on August 8th itself, several Bills were sent to the DRSCs:
- Competition (Amendment) Bill, 2022
- Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022
What needs to be done?
- This is significant given the limited legislative time that was available with the Parliament this session (only 5 Bills were passed). Also this improvement comes in the wake of widespread criticism of the government over the steamrolling of Bills in the last few sessions.
- The government worries that disruptions in the Parliamentary business lead to unduly delays in the legislative process and referring the Bills to DRSCs, in such a situation, would add to the delays and be counterproductive.
- The low productivity of the monsoon session- 47% in Lok Sabha and 42% in Rajya Sabha– bears testimony to this fear.
- However, DRSC examination of legislations would improve the lawmaking process and most of the experienced and skilled ministers aren’t averse to Bills being referred to committees.
- Hence, fostering parliamentarians’ trust in the DRSC system is of paramount importance.
- The reluctance in referring Bills to DRSCs arises more out of the concerned ministries’ inaction and ignorance, rather than ideological and policy factors.
- Some changes in the procedure could help improve the situations:
- Automatically referring Bills:
- The power of referring Bills to DRSCs is with the Presiding Officers. This requirement is often by-passed for different political and administrative reasons.
- Referring Bills to DRSCs could be made compulsory/ automatic with exemptions being allowed, following provision of detailed reasons, with specific approval from the Presiding Officers.
- The House’s prerogative in referring Bills to DRSCs, via an amendment, would remain unaffected.
- Free and frank discussion:
- To enable such discussions in the DRSCs, doing away whips’ application could help.
- Fixing timeline:
- Presiding Officers can decide on timelines for committees to give recommendations and submit reports.
- In case of political exigencies, committees may fail to give recommendations within the timeframe and could be given time extensions. If even this extended timeframe isn’t abided, the Bill may be directly put up before the House.
- Inviting experts:
- Experts could bring in necessary domain knowledge and the latest developments and trends- enabling quality work by DRSCs.
- Associating subject matter experts with a committee for a short time period could be worth the expense.
- Meetings in inter-sessional periods:
- The time between successive sessions is sufficient for DRSC meetings to enable discussions on Bills. However, the government and the committees’ chairpersons tend to be lax sometimes and push the legislations when the next Parliamentary session is announced.
- The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, in collaboration with committee chairpersons, need to monitor such lapses and get the work organized in advance.
- New initiatives:
- When examining budget proposals, DRSCs needn’t limit themselves to just discussing and endorsing them with a few amendments here and there.
- The committees could suggest new people-friendly initiatives and measures to the ministry.
- Automatically referring Bills:
DRSCs are a useful mechanism in crafting well thought-out pieces of legislations. While the current committee system may face several challenges impeding the realization of its full benefits, a few procedural tweaks could help move things along.
Practice Question for Mains:
“Department Related Standing Committees are an essential pit stop in parliamentary business”. Discuss. (250 words)