Dhankhar criticises ‘narrative’, says V-P joined panel after staff members approached him

New Delhi: Eight officers of the personal staff of Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar have been “attached” to 12 standing committees and eight department-related standing committees of Parliament, drawing criticism from the opposition.

The officers attached to the committees from the Vice President’s staff are Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Rajesh N Naik, Private Secretary (PS) Sujit Kumar, Additional Private Secretary Sanjay Verma and OSD Abhyuday Singh Shekhawat. The OSDs appointed from the Rajya Sabha Chairman’s office are Akhil Chowdhary, Dinesh D, Kaustubh Sudhakar Bhalekar and PS Aditi Chowdhary.

In an order issued on Tuesday, the Rajya Sabha secretariat said the officers have been attached to the committees “with immediate effect and until further orders”. These officers are expected to assist the committees in their work, which involves meetings that are confidential in nature.

On Thursday, after the opposition criticized the move, Vice President Dhankhar said he took action because the chairman and members of the committee came to him, prompting him to resolve the issues. “This has been done after multi-level consultations,” he said.

“The democrat is turned into an autocrat,” he said at the release of author-politician Karan Singh’s book Mundaka Upanishad: The Bridge to Immortality at his residence.

“Each (parliamentary) committee has a staff of 5-6 people. I got suggestions from several chairpersons and members to do something positively so that we can improve our productivity,” said Dhankhar.

“I ramp up human resources associated with committees by placing research-oriented, knowledgeable people, so that they can help committee members optimize their outputs. In the process, I appointed an IAS officer, an IFS officer. ..and a story is going on…that the Speaker has appointed its members to the committee,” he said, adding “the committee belongs to the members of Parliament, it is their exclusive domain”.

He said he is “extremely disturbed and alarmed” by such a “narrative based on falsehood” and has directed his office to be in touch with newspaper editors and channel heads. “I want the media to be fair… Please don’t be so unfair that you keep spreading lies to demean a constitutional authority.”

Responding to Dhankhar’s remarks, Congress chief whip in Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh said, “The Rajya Sabha Chairman has said that his controversial move to attach his staff to various committees was after consultation with the respective Chairmen. I chair a standing committee and I can categorically say that I was not consulted at all.” He had earlier questioned the “rationale or necessity” behind the move.

Former Rajya Sabha member and CPI general secretary D Raja said this was a “violation of established parliamentary procedures”.

RJD Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha said, “What is the logic behind such a move, which basically goes against the idea and structure of standing committees?”

Former Lok Sabha secretary-general PDT Acharya told The Indian Express that as per the definition of parliamentary committees, only MPs and employees of the Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha secretariat can offer such roles of assistance.

“There is no rule under which the Speaker or the Speaker can appoint his personal staff to assist the committees. The definition of parliamentary committees is very clear that they consist only of members (MPs) and officers of the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha secretariat to assist them. The personal staff of the Speaker or the Chairman is not part of the parliamentary secretariat. As of now, no such appointment has been made,” said Achari.

There are a total of 24 standing committees, each consisting of 21 Lok Sabha MPs and 10 Rajya Sabha MPs. Of the 24, 16 work under the jurisdiction of the Lok Sabha Speaker, and eight under the jurisdiction of the Rajya Sabha Chairman. Most bills, after being introduced in the House, are sent to these committees for detailed examination. The Speaker and the Chairman are empowered to do so based on the demands of the MPs.