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DAILY NEWS ANALYSIS

GS-II :
  • 03 December, 2019

  • Min Read

Ethics panel set to form code of conduct for Lok Sabha MPs

Syllabus subtopic: Parliament and State Legislatures - structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

News: With two legislators forced to apologise for their remarks in the two sessions of the 17th Lok Sabha, its Ethics Committee is all set to form a code of conduct for MPs in the Lower House. After BJP MP Pragya Singh Thakur triggered a controversy with her remarks on Nathuram Godse, the Ethics Committee initiated discussions on it on Monday.

Prelims and Mains focus: About the Parlimentary Committees and their functioning, significance and ways to improve their working

Context:

The panel, headed by BJP’s Vinod Kumar Sonkar, met on Monday and decided to seek suggestions as well as views from all political parties for the code that would oversee the moral and ethical conduct of the MPs.

In the meeting, the 14-member committee decided to study code of conduct for the lawmakers in the US, UK and other countries.

A code of conduct had come into force for the Rajya Sabha MPs in 2005.

Instances of violation

SP leader Azam Khan had created controversy in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha with a sexist remark against BJP’s Rema Devi, who was then in the chair,

The ongoing winter session witnessed uproarious scenes when Thakur made a remark about Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Godse.

While Thakur’s remarks were expunged, the Opposition protests forced the ruling BJP to direct her to tender an apology twice on the floor of the House.

Need

The two incidents have made it necessary to lay down a format on code of conduct, especially in the backdrop of new technologies in the communication sector. Unlike in the past, the remarks on the floor of the House spread fast, even if they are expunged from the records. So the MPs will have to follow certain decorum in speaking inside the House as well as outside.

Issues raised by MPs

During the meeting, members warned that such a code will have long lasting impact and thereby it should be “carefully discussed and deliberated in detail”. The political parties would be asked to give their opinions and suggestions, the source said.

The discussions have just begun and no time frame has been finalised to come up with a format. However, they indicated that no decision would be taken in a hurry without proper study.

With proceedings getting disrupted often in the Rajya Sabha, Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu has suggested changes in the code so that “disruptive activities” in whatever form can be brought down.

About Ethics Committee

Each of the two houses of the Parliament has an Ethics Committee. They deal with the member’s conduct.

Role of Ethics Committee

Besides overseeing the moral ethical conduct of the members, ethics committee also prepares Code of Conduct for members, which are amended from time to time. The ethics committee in Lok Sabha has 15 members. In Rajya Sabha, this number stands at 10.

Who can file complaint?

Any person may make a complaint to the Committee regarding alleged unethical behaviour or breach of Code of Conduct by a member or alleged incorrect information of a member’s interest. The Committee may also take up matters suo motu.

Punishment

Where it has been found the member has indulged in unethical behaviour or there is other misconduct, or a member has contravened the rules, the Committee may recommend imposition of one or more of the sanctions. This may include censure, reprimand, suspension, from the House for a specific period or any other sanction determined by the Committee.

Significance of parliamentary committees

  1. Parliament is the embodiment of the people’s will. Committees are an instrument of Parliament for its own effective functioning.
  2. Committees are platforms for threadbare discussion on a proposed law.
  3. The smaller cohort of lawmakers, assembled on the basis of the proportional strength of individual parties and interests and expertise of individual lawmakers, could have more open, intensive and better-informed discussions.
  4. Committee meetings are ‘closed door’ and members are not bound by party whips, which allows them the latitude for a more meaningful exchange of views as against discussions in full and open Houses where grandstanding and party positions invariably take precedence.
  5. Members of Parliament may have great acumen but they would require the assistance of experts in dealing with such situations. It is through committees that such expertise is drawn into lawmaking.
  6. Executive accountability to the legislature is enforced through questions in Parliament also, which are answered by ministers. However, department standing committees go one step further and hear from senior officials of the government in a closed setting, allowing for more detailed discussions.
  7. This mechanism also enables parliamentarians to understand the executive processes closely.

Types of committees

  1. Most committees are ‘standing’ as their existence is uninterrupted and usually reconstituted on an annual basis; some are ‘select’ committees formed for a specific purpose, for instance, to deliberate on a particular bill. Once the Bill is disposed of, that select committee ceases to exist. Some standing committees are departmentally related.
  2. Financial control is a critical tool for Parliament’s authority over the executive; hence finance committees are considered to be particularly powerful. The three financial committees are the Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings.

Powers:

Parliamentary committees draw their authority from Article 105 (on privileges of Parliament members) and Article 118 (on Parliament’s authority to make rules for regulating its procedure and conduct of business).

Significance:

Committee reports are usually exhaustive and provide authentic information on matters related to governance. Bills that are referred to committees are returned to the House with significant value addition. Parliament is not bound by the recommendations of committees.

What these committees do?

  • Support Parliament’s work.
  • Examine ministerial budgets, consider Demands for Grants, analyse legislation and scrutinise the government’s working.
  • Examine Bills referred to by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha.
  • Consideration of Annual Reports.
  • Consideration of national basic long term policy documents presented to the House and referred to the Committee by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha.

Advantages of having such committees:

  • The deliberations and scrutiny by committees ensure that Parliament is able to fulfil some of its constitutional obligations in a politically charged environment.
  • They also help in obtaining public feedback and building political consensus on contentious issues.
  • They help develop expertise in subjects, and enable consultation with independent experts and stakeholders.
  • The committees perform their functions without the cloud of political positioning and populist opinion.
  • These committees allow the views of diverse stakeholders.
  • They function through the year.
  • They also offer an opportunity for detailed scrutiny of bills being piloted by the government.
  • They increase the efficiency and expertise of Parliament.
  • Their reports allow for informed debate in Parliament.

How can these committees be made more effective?

  1. Parliamentary committees don’t have dedicated subject-wise research support available. The knowledge gap is partially bridged by expert testimony from government and other stakeholders. Their work could be made more effective if the committees had full-time, sector-specific research staff.
  2. The national commission to review the working of the Constitution has recommended that in order to strengthen the committee system, research support should be made available to them.
  3. Currently, the rules of Parliament don’t require every bill to be referred to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny. While this allows the government greater flexibility and the ability to speed up legislative business, it comes at the cost of ineffective scrutiny by the highest law-making body. Mandatory scrutiny of all bills by parliamentary committees would ensure better planning of legislative business.

Source: Indian Express


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