Cong may lose to retain 3 parliamentary standing committees’ chairmanships

New Delhi: The Congress could struggle to retain its chairmanship in three parliamentary standing committees in the upcoming reshuffle of the panels owing to its current strength in both Houses of Parliament, according to people aware of the matter.

The Congress now has 33 members in the Rajya Sabha, down from 56 in 2019. It has 52 MPs in the Lok Sabha. “Some Bharatiya Janata Party members have pointed this out and demanded that the Congress should not retain three chairman’s positions as the BJP deserves one additional chairman’s post,” a senior parliamentary official said, asking not to be named.

All members of Parliament are entitled to get a seat in the standing committees. But the chairperson’s position in these 24 panels is decided on the basis of the combined strength of each party in the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. While all chairpersons have been nominated by either Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla or Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu, there is a strict quota system for these nominations.

In 2019, the Trinamool Congress lost one such position after its Lok Sabha tally decreased from 34 in 2014 to 28 in 2019. The party, which headed two panels, now has just Sudip Bandyopadhyay as the chairman of the food and consumer affairs panel.

Each panel is constituted for a span of one year. At the end of each year, panels are reshuffled. All existing panels are scrapped at the end of a Lok Sabha’s term and new panels are formed in the new Lok Sabha.

The Congress currently chairs the home affairs, information technology and environment standing committees. Some BJP leaders have already argued with the Lok Sabha top brass that as the Congress’s tally is down by more than 20 MPs, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor can be replaced by a BJP leader. BJP leaders including Nishikant Dubey earlier wrote to the Lok Sabha Speaker to remove Tharoor from the chair after major arguments in the panel over the submission of subjects and calling of witnesses.

There are 24 parliamentary standing committees to oversee the work of all Union ministries. Sixteen of these are in the Lok Sabha’s jurisdiction and the remaining eight fall under the Rajya Sabha’s ambit.

“The process of rejigging the panels is now at the final stage. Some smaller parties are yet to submit their nominations for various positions and following those steps, the panels will be reshuffled,” an official said on condition of anonymity.

Chairmanship is decided on the basis of strength of a party in both Houses of Parliament. The quota is arrived at by dividing the total strength of Parliament by 24 or the number of department-related standing committees. Apart from these 24 panels, MPs are also nominated as chairpersons in other standing committees. Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury chairs the Public Accounts Committee.

A third official also suggested that even if the Congress manages to retain its chairmanship in the three standing committees, it might find it difficult to keep those seats next year as the BJP’s tally in the Rajya Sabha is expected to rise further.