The functions of Parliament are not only varied in nature, but considerable in volume. The time at its disposal is limited. It cannot make very detailed scrutiny of all legislative and other matters that come up before it. A good deal of Parliamentary business is, therefore, transacted in the committees.
Both Houses of Parliament have a similar committee structure, with a few exceptions. Their appointment, terms of office, functions and procedure of conducting business are also more or less similar and are regulated as per rules made by the two Houses under Article 118(1) of the Constitution.
Broadly, Parliamentary Committees are of two kinds - Standing Committees and ad hoc Committees. The former are elected or appointed every year or periodically and their work goes on, more or less, on a continuous basis. The latter are appointed on an ad hoc basis as need arises and they cease to exist as soon as they complete the task assigned to them.
Standing Committees: Among the Standing Committees, the three Financial Committees - Committees on Estimates, Public Accounts and Public Undertakings - constitute a distinct group as they keep an unremitting vigil over Government expenditure and performance. While members of the Rajya Sabha are associated with Committees on Public Accounts and Public Undertakings, the members of the Committee on Estimates are drawn entirely from the Lok Sabha.
The Estimates Committee reports on 'what economies, improvements in organisation, efficiency or administrative reform consistent with policy underlying the estimates' may be effected. It also examines whether the money is well laid out within limits of the policy implied in the estimates and suggests the form in which estimates shall be presented to Parliament. The Public Accounts Committee scrutinises appropriation and finance accounts of Government and reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. It ensures that public money is spent in accordance with Parliament's decision and calls attention to cases of waste, extravagance, loss or nugatory expenditure. The Committee on Public Undertakings examines reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, if any. It also examines whether public undertakings are being run efficiently and managed in accordance with sound business principles and prudent commercial practices.
Besides these three Financial Committees, the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha recommended setting-up of 17 Department Related Standing Committees (DRSCs). Accordingly, 17 Department Related Standing Committees were set up on 8 April 1993. In July 2004, rules were amended to provide for the constitution of seven more such committees, thus raising the number of DRSCs from 17 to 24. The functions of these Committees are:
- to consider the Demands for Grants of various Ministries/Departments of Government of India and make reports to the Houses;
- to examine such Bills as are referred to the Committee by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha, as the case may be, and make reports thereon;
- to consider Annual Reports of ministries/departments and make reports thereon; and
- to consider policy documents presented to the Houses, if referred to the Committee by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha, as the case may be, and make reports thereon.
Other Standing Committees in each House, divided in terms of their functions, are
- Committees to Inquire:
- Committee on Petitions examines petitions on bills and on matters of general public interest and also entertains representations on matters concerning subjects in the Union List; and
- Committee of Privileges examines any question of privilege referred to it by the House or Speaker/Chairman;
- Committees to Scrutinise:
- Committee on Government Assurances keeps track of all the assurances, promises, undertakings, etc., given by Ministers in the House and pursues them till they are implemented;
- Committee on Subordinate Legislation scrutinises and reports to the House whether the power to make regulations, rules, sub-rules, bye-laws, etc., conferred by the Constitution or Statutes is being properly exercised by the delegated authorities; and
- Committee on Papers Laid on the Table examines all papers laid on the table of the House by Ministers, other than statutory notifications and orders which come within the purview of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation, to see whether there has been compliance with the provisions of the Constitution, Act, rule or regulation under which the paper has been laid;
- Committees relating to the day-today business of the House:
- Business Advisory Committee recommends allocation of time for items of Government and other business to be brought before the Houses;
- Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions of the Lok Sabha classifies and allocates time to Bills introduced by private members, recommends allocation of time for discussion on private members’ resolutions and examines Constitution amendment bills before their introduction by private members in the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha does not have such a committee. It is the Business Advisory Committee of that House which recommends allocation of time for discussion on stage or stages of private members’ bills and resolutions;
- Rules Committee considers matters of procedure and conduct of business in the House and recommends amendments or additions to the Rules; and
- Committee on Absence of Members from the Sittings of the House of the Lok Sabha considers all applications from members for leave or absence from sittings of the House. There is no such Committee in the Rajya Sabha. Applications from members for leave or absence are considered by the House itself;
- Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, on which members from both Houses serve, considers all matters relating to the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes which come within the purview of the Union Government and keeps a watch whether constitutional safeguards in respect of these classes are properly implemented;
- Committees concerned with the provision of facilities to members:
- General Purposes Committee considers and advises Speaker/Chairman on matters concerning affairs of the House, which do not appropriately fall within the purview of any other Parliamentary Committee; and
- House Committee deals with residential accommodation and other amenities for members;
- Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament, constituted under the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954, apart from framing rules for regulating payment of salary, allowances and pension to Members of Parliament, also frames rules in respect of amenities like medical, housing, telephone, postal, constituency and secretarial facility;
- Joint Committee on Offices of Profit examines the composition and character of committees and other bodies appointed by the Central and State governments and Union Territories Administrations and recommends what offices ought to or ought not to disqualify a person from being chosen as a member of either House of Parliament;
- The Library Committee consisting of members from both Houses, considers matters concerning the Library of Parliament;
- On 29 April 1997, a Committee on Empowerment of Women with members from both the Houses was constituted with a view to securing, among other things, status, dignity and equality for women in all fields;
- On 4 March 1997, the Ethics Committee of the Rajya Sabha was constituted. The Ethics Committee of the Lok Sabha was constituted on 16 May 2000.
Ad hoc Committees: Such Committees may be broadly classified under two heads:
- committees which are constituted from time to time, either by the two Houses on a motion adopted in that behalf or by Speaker/Chairman to inquire into and report on specific subjects, (e.g., Committees on the Conduct of certain Members during President's Address, Committees on Draft Five-Year Plans, Railway Convention Committee, Committee on Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme, Joint Committee on Bofors Contracts, Joint Committee on Fertilizer Pricing, Joint Committee to enquire into irregularities in securities and banking transactions, Joint Committee on Stock Market Scam, Joint Committees on Security in Parliament Complex, Committee on Provision of Computers for Members of Parliament, Offices of Political Parties and Officers of the Lok Sabha Secretariat; Committee on Food Management in Parliament House Complex; Committee on Installation of Portraits/Statues of National Leaders and Parliamentarians in Parliament House Complex, etc.), and
- Select or Joint Committees on Bills which are appointed to consider and report on a particular Bill. These Committees are distinguishable from the other ad hoc committees inasmuch as they are concerned with Bills and the procedure to be followed by them as laid down in the Rules of Procedure and Directions by the Speaker/Chairman.
Source: India Book - A Reference Annual