Covid or not, Rajya Sabha panels are doing great in office

New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha might have experienced frequent disruptions over the past sessions, but the eight standing committees under the Upper House have improved their performance.

A review of the functioning of these panels over the past three years shows that they spent more time discussing issues and that, for the first time, the average sitting exceeded two hours (in 2019-20) before the pandemic drastically reduced attendance this year.

Parliament has 24 department-related standing committees that review the functioning of the Union government. All Central ministries and departments come under the purview of these panels; 16 panels are headed by Lok Sabha MPs and the remaining are under the Rajya Sabha’s jurisdiction and headed by its MPs.

Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu asked for performance reviews of the functioning of the panels on parameters such as attendance, quorum and the preparation of reports to ensure transparency and accountability. The latest review showed that these panels met for an average duration of 2 hours 10 minutes in 2019-20, an improvement over the average of 1 hour 51 minutes in 2017-18 and 1 hour 25 minutes in 2018-19.

House panels are multi-party bodies that examine bills and submit report to Parliament. Their suggestions are not binding upon the government but they provide important policy roadmaps and talking points for MPs. If the government decides not to accept a panel’s suggestions, it has to reply to Parliament, justifying its decisions.

The functioning of these panels also assumes importance as the members usually go beyond partisan lines to draft reports.

The review also showed that FY19-20 saw the best attendance rate of 49% in the past three years. While average attendance crossed the halfway mark with 50.7% for the first time during the first half of 2019-20, it tumbled to 41% in the last few months of FY19-20.

The review showed that nearly two in five meetings saw more than 50% attendance—a stark departure from corresponding proportions of 14% and 30% during the previous two years. The number of meetings held without quorum, or the minimum required attendance, declined to 10% in 2019-20.

The eight committees spent more than 254 hours in FY19-20 and clocked a total of 571 hours in 300 meetings over the three years. While home affairs panel held the longest meeting (more than 47 hours) in 2017-20, the HRD panel spent the maximum time in sittings — 100 hrs. The industry panel spent the least time—just 36 hours 11 minutes.