Parliamentary committees

indian parliament Committees

Parliament has the primary responsibility of making laws and holding the government responsible for its actions. As representatives of citizens, MPs pass laws, oversee the working of the government and the efficient allocation of public funds. Parliamentary Committees act as a mechanism that helps in improving the effectiveness of Parliament. 

Over the years, responsibilities of the government have increased significantly. Government expenditure and legislation have become technical and complex in nature. While a significant amount of Parliament’s work gets done on the floor of the House, it is difficult for Parliament to scrutinise all government activities in the House in a limited time.

Thus, Parliamentary Committees were constituted to examine proposed legislation, government policies and expenditure in detail. They also examine petitions from the public, check whether rules framed by the government are in consonance with Acts of Parliament, and help manage the administration of Parliament. Deliberations in Committees present several advantages. 

Committees can get inputs from experts and stakeholders on various matters. Their ability to devote more time on each item allows them to examine matters in greater detail. They also help parties reach consensus on various issues. 

However, there are several areas where Committees need strengthening. For example, all Bills are not referred to Committees. They are thinly staffed and do not have full-time technical expert support. Some Committees may not seek evidence from experts on important Bills. Further, attendance of MPs in Committee meetings is about 50%, which is lower than the 84% attendance seen during the Parliament sittings. 

General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

  • Parliament and State legislatures—structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

So we will cover the following aspects: 

  • Why are parliamentary committees needed? 
  • Types of committees. 
  • How is the Functioning of the Committees? 
  • How to improve committees in India?

Why are parliamentary committees needed? 

Parliamentary committees are an integral part of the legislative process in India, and they serve several important functions. Here are some key reasons why parliamentary committees are needed in India:

  1. Detailed examination of bills: and other matters referred to them by the Parliament. This allows for a thorough review of legislation, including its various aspects such as legal, technical, financial, and policy implications. The committees can also seek inputs from experts and stakeholders, which helps in making informed decisions about the proposed legislation.
  2. Oversight of executive actions: They review the policies, programs, and actions of government departments and agencies to ensure that they are being implemented effectively and efficiently, and to hold the government accountable for its actions. This helps in ensuring transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government.
  3. Examination of budgetary allocations: They examine the estimates of expenditure, proposals for new spending, and the outcomes of past spending to ensure that public funds are being utilized efficiently and effectively. This helps in ensuring that taxpayer money is being spent wisely and in the best interests of the public.
  4. Public participation: They often invite inputs from the public, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders, and conduct public hearings on important issues. This allows for a diverse range of perspectives to be taken into account in the decision-making process and promotes participatory democracy.
  5. Expertise and specialization: This allows for in-depth examination of complex issues, as the committees can draw on the knowledge and experience of their members. It also helps in bridging the gap between legislation and implementation, as the committees can provide valuable insights and recommendations for effective implementation of laws.
  6. Efficient and specialized functioning: Parliamentary committees are smaller and more focused than the full Parliament, which allows for more efficient and specialized functioning. Committees can delve into issues in detail, conduct hearings, and interact with stakeholders, which may not be possible in the larger forum of Parliament. This leads to a more comprehensive and informed decision-making process.

Overall, parliamentary committees play a crucial role in the Indian legislative process by providing a platform for detailed examination, oversight, public participation, and specialized expertise. They contribute to the effective functioning of democracy by ensuring that legislation is thoroughly reviewed, government actions are scrutinized, and public interests are represented.

Types of committees

There are various types of Parliamentary Committees in India which look at matters such as government expenditure, legislation, government policies and schemes, and administration of Parliament.

They can be categorised into Departmentally Related Standing Committees, financial committees, administrative committees, accountability committees, and ad hoc committees. 

Departmentally Related Standing Committees (DRSCs) 

  • DRSCs were constituted in 1993 to assist Parliament in scrutinising funds allocated to Ministries. They also examine Bills referred to them by Parliament and analyse other relevant policy issues.
  • There are 24 DRSCs that oversee the working of a Ministry or group of Ministries. 
  • They are composed of 31 members: 21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha. These DRSCs are constituted for a period of one year. Financial Committees Parliament regulates government expenditure to ensure that public finances are used efficiently. 
  • Such financial oversight is a complex and technical task. Financial committees facilitate this task for Parliament.
  • They are the:
    • Committee on Public Accounts, Committee on Public Undertakings, and Estimates Committee. 
    • The Committee on Public Undertakings and Public Accounts consist of 22 members: 15 from Lok Sabha and seven members from Rajya Sabha. 
    • The Estimates Committee is composed entirely of Lok Sabha MPs. It has 30 members who are elected by the House. Members are elected for a period of one year. 

Financial Committees

Name of the CommitteeNo. of MembersTenureMembers Nominated or Elected
Estimates Committee301 yearElected by the Lok Sabha
Public Accounts Committee22(15LS+7RS)1 yearElected by the two House(s)
Committee on Public Undertakings22(15LS+7RS)1 yearElected by the two House(s)

Administrative Committees

Both Houses of Parliament also require significant administrative support for their day-to-day functioning. The Houses have set up different Committees, such as the Business Advisory Committee which helps decide the daily agenda of Parliament. Table 1 provides a list of administrative Committees in Parliament. 

Business Advisory CommitteeRecommends time to be allocated for the discussion of Bills and other business
Committee on Private Members’ Bills and ResolutionsExamines all Private Members’ Bills after their introduction.
Committee on Government AssurancesScrutinises the assurances, promises, and undertakings given by Ministers.
Rules CommitteeConsiders matters of procedure and conduct of business in the House
Committee of PrivilegesExamines questions involving breach of rights, privileges, and immunities enjoyed by MPs
Committee on EthicsOversees the moral and ethical conduct of MPs
Committee on Absence of Members from the Sittings of the House Examines leave applications of MPs.
Joint Committee on Offices of Profit Examines the composition of other committees and recommends what offices may disqualify a person from becoming an MP. 
Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of MPsExamines salaries and allowances of MPs.
Committee on the Welfare of SCs and STsExamines measures taken by the government to improve the status of Scheduled Castes and Tribes
Committee on Empowerment of WomenRecommends measures to improve the status and conditions women.
Library Committee Advises on the improvement of Parliamentary library.
House CommitteeAdvises on matters related to residential accommodation of MPs. 
General Purposes CommitteeAdvises on matters concerning the affairs of the House referred to it by the Chairperson. 

Accountability Committees 

  • Apart from financial Committees and DRSCs, three other Committees ensure government accountability towards Parliament and citizens. These are the Committee on Government Assurances, the Committee on Subordinate Legislation, and the Committee on Petitions. 

Ad Hoc Committees 

  • Ad Hoc Committees are appointed by either House or the presiding officers from time-to-time for a specific purpose. They cease to exist when they finish the task assigned to them and submit a report. Some Ad Hoc Committees include: the Railway Convention Committee, and Select Committees formed to examine specific Bills.

How is the Functioning of the Committees ? 

  • Departmentally Related Standing Committees Departmentally Related Standing Committees (DRSCs) meet to examine the expenditure of all Ministries, Bills referred to them, and policies or issues selected by them. These meetings are conducted while Parliament is in session or during inter-session periods. While it is difficult to analyse the quality of deliberations in these sittings, the number of sittings held by various DRSCs can be used as an indicator to measure the quantity of work done by them. Figure 1 shows the average number of sittings for 10 Committees which examine the largest (by expenditure) Ministries/Departments. 
Food, Consumer 
Affairs & PDS 
Transport, Tourism 
and Culture 
Human Resource 
Home Affairs 
Health and 
Family Welfare 
Chemicals and 

Note that the Committees on Defence, Finance, and Home Affairs have seen a decrease in average number of sittings from the 14th to the 16th Lok Sabha, whereas the Committee on Chemicals and Fertilizers has seen an increase.

Examining Demands for Grants 

  • After the Budget is presented, the DRSCs examine the Demands for Grants of all Ministries under its purview. Demands for Grants refer to the detailed estimates of expenditure of each Ministry. DRSCs study allocations to schemes and programmes, spending by the Ministry, and the policy priorities of the Ministry. 
  • After this examination, the Committee compiles its recommendations in the form of a Report which is laid in both Houses of Parliament. These recommendations help MPs understand the implications of financial allocations. They also allow for a more informed debate and analysis of Demands for Grants in Lok Sabha.
Table 2: Days between report tabled date and voting on demands 
Consumer Affairs, 
Food & Public 
Rural Development 
Transport, Tourism 
& Culture 
Human Resource 
Home Affairs 
Health & Family 
Chemicals & 
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 
Sources: Statistical Handbook 2019, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; Lok Sabha and Rajya 
Sabha websites; PRS.

Negative numbers suggest that the report was presented after the Demand for Grants were voted upon. In 2009 and 2014, all reports on the Demands were presented a few months after they were voted in the House. Note that these were election years, and in these years the budget presented by the new government was passed in the month of July. 

The new DRSCs were not formed by then. The primary objective of reports on Demands for Grants is to help MPs examine government expenditure better. Therefore, it is necessary for MPs to have sufficient time to study these reports before the discussion in the House. The data suggests that in many cases MPs do not have sufficient time to study these reports. 

Examining Bills

  • Once a Bill has been introduced in Parliament, it may be referred to a DRSC for detailed scrutiny. The Bill can be referred to a Committee either by the Speaker of Lok Sabha, or the Chairperson of Rajya Sabha. It is sent to the DRSC that reviews the working of the Ministry under which the Bill is introduced. After concluding its examination, the DRSC lays its report in Parliament. The recommendations of the DRSC on the Bill may also be discussed in the House.
  • Note that a Bill passed by one House can still be referred to a Committee by the other House. For instance, in the 16th Lok Sabha, the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016, and the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2013 were referred to a DRSC as well as a Select Committee. 
  • DRSCs were given the responsibility of scrutinising Bills because Parliament does not have the time and expertise to analyse each Bill in detail, on the floor of the House. However, the trend shows that fewer Bills are being referred to Committees as compared to previous Lok Sabha. 

Examination of Issues

  • Every year, DRSCs select subjects for detailed examination. These subjects could be on existing or potential issues that could come up in the sectors that the DRSC looks at, or implementation of programmes by the relevant Ministry. For example, some of the subjects identified for examination by DRSCs constituted for 2019-20 include: state of the Indian economy, implementation of the Ayushman Bharat Yojana, and digital payment and online security measures for data protection.

Reports submitted by DRSCs

  • After examining Bills, Demands for Grants, and issues, DRSCs prepare reports and table them in Parliament. Subsequently, the DRSCs also submit Action Taken Reports which show the recommendations accepted by the government, and the progress made on them. The acceptance rate varies across Committees. During the 16th Lok Sabha, 2,038 sittings were held by DRSCs and they submitted 1,111 reports. On average, DRSCs published one report in 1.8 sittings. Average sittings taken to publish one report vary across DRSCs. However, it is difficult to evaluate quality of these deliberations without analysing each report. 
Science & Tech, Environment 
Coal & Steel 
Social Justice & Empowerment 
Transport, Tourism and Culture 
Rural Development 
Chemicals and Fertilizers 
Information Technology 
Human Resource Development 
Health and Family Welfare 
Home Affairs 
Water Resources 
Urban Development 
Food, Consumer Affairs & PDS 
Personnel, Law & Justice 
External Affairs 
Petroleum & Natural Gas

Expert witnesses and research support 

  • To aid in their study, members of DRSCs can consult with expert witnesses, stakeholders, and government officials. Engaging with experts and stakeholders enables Committee members to better understand the details of complicated issues, and the potential impact of a policy or legislation.
  • Note that Committees invite witnesses to testify before them at their own discretion. 
    • For instance, the DRSC that examined the Right to Education Bill, 2008, which guarantees free education to all children ages six to 14, did not invite any expert witnesses.
  • Apart from consulting experts, Committees can also invite comments from the wider public. 
    • For example, the Committee on Labour and Employment published a press release inviting public comments on the Occupational, Safety, Health and Working Conditions Bill, 2019. Public comments help Committees consider the wider implications of a Bill or policy.
      • However, it is up to the discretion of the Committee whether or not they chose to invite public comments. 
  • Currently, the technical support available to Parliamentary Committees is limited to a secretariat that helps with matters such as scheduling meetings and note taking.
    • The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2002) had highlighted the lack of research support and specialist advisors with the DRSCs.4 It recommended that funds should be secured to assist these Committees in conducting inquiries, holding public hearings, and collecting data. Note that Committees in other countries such as the UK, USA, and Canada can retain specialist advisors (such as lawyers, economists, and statisticians) to assist in specific inquires.

Attendance of Members 

  • Parliamentary Committees hold several meetings to conduct in-depth analysis of various issues through extensive deliberations among Members. Success of the Committee system depends on the participation of Members in these meetings. Though Committee meetings are conducted in a closed-door environment, Lok Sabha publishes the attendance of Members in these meetings. Sixteen of the 24 DRSCs are administered by Lok Sabha and other eight by Rajya Sabha. Figure 7 shows the attendance of members during 2009-14 for the 16 DRSCs serviced by Lok Sabha. On average, 49% members were present for meetings of these Committees between this period. 
Figure 7: 
Committee meetings had 49% attendance between 2009- 
Average attendance in Committee meetings (2009-2014) 
52% 52% 
55% 55% 
48% 46% 
Sources: Summary of work ofDRSCs, Lok Sabha website; P RS

Way Forward

Committees in India, like any other organization or system, can be improved through various measures.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Diverse and Competent Membership: which brings a wide range of expertise and perspectives. This ensures that the committee is able to effectively address the issues at hand and make informed decisions.
  • Transparent and Inclusive Processes: including clear rules of procedure, open meetings, and opportunities for public input. This promotes accountability, fairness, and wider stakeholder engagement.
  • Adequate Resources and Support: including budgetary allocations, administrative assistance, and access to relevant information and data. This enables committees to function effectively and efficiently.
  • Timely Completion of Work: Committees should have a defined timeline for completing their work and submitting their recommendations or reports. This prevents undue delays and ensures that the committee’s work is timely and relevant.
  • Implementation of Recommendations: should be seriously considered and implemented by the relevant authorities. This helps ensure that the committee’s efforts result in tangible outcomes and real impact.
  • Regular Monitoring and Evaluation: Committees’ performance should be regularly monitored and evaluated to assess their effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. This helps in continuously enhancing the functioning of committees and making necessary adjustments.
  • Capacity Building and Training: to enhance their skills, knowledge, and understanding of the committee’s mandate and processes. This helps in improving their performance and overall effectiveness.
  • Review and Revision of Committee Structures: Periodic review and revision of committee structures, mandates, and processes can help identify gaps and areas for improvement. This may involve restructuring or redefining committees to align with changing needs and priorities.
  • Utilization of Technology: Committees can leverage technology for better communication, coordination, and documentation. This may include the use of online platforms for meetings, document sharing, and data analysis, which can streamline committee processes and enhance efficiency.

By implementing these measures, committees in India can be improved to function more effectively and contribute positively to decision-making and policy formulation processes.

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