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A 'Potent' Panel For Probes: Why Joint Parliamentary Committees Are Set Up, How They Work

Congress supporters shout slogans during a protest seeking a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the Rafale fighter jet deal, in Chandigarh, in October 2018. REUTERS

Congress supporters shout slogans during a protest seeking a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the Rafale fighter jet deal, in Chandigarh, in October 2018. REUTERS

You'd have heard of demands that a Joint Parliamentary Committee be set up to probe some issue. An essential mechanism for Parliament, here's how they work

Parliament is the temple of democracy and parliamentary procedures the rites by which the will of the people is translated into practice. But the terms and jargon involved in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha processes can be difficult to grasp. The News18 series, House Talk, brings you a ready reckoner to make sure that none of it is Greek to you.

Committees are an essential part of the parliamentary system in that they provide a means for devoting focused attention to specific matters that the legislators as a whole may not find the time to discuss or attend to. Since the Parliament may not be able to give close attention to all the legislative and other matters that come up before it, “a good deal of its business" is carried out by parliamentary committees. Here’s a look at one such, known as the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).

What Is A JPC?

There are two kinds of committee that Parliament may set up: standing committees and ad-hoc committees. JPCs belong to the category of ad-hoc committees. As the categorisation suggests, these committees are created to take up specific matters and are disbanded once they have discharged their task for which they were set up.

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They are called ‘joint’ committees because members of both the Houses of Parliament can be nominated or elected to them.

According to the Lok Sabha Secretariat (LSS), JPCs is a kind of panel that can be “appointed by the House or the Speaker or the Presiding Officers of both the Houses in consultation with each other as the case may be from time-to-time on ad-hoc basis as and when necessary for a particular purpose".

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Why Is A JPC Set Up?

Law-making being a complex and time-consuming task, the Parliament may set up a JPC to go into the provisions of a particular piece of legislation. The JPC examines the proposed law, consults stakeholders and present its report to the Parliament. For example, the Personal Data Protection Bill, which was introduced in 2019, is being examined by a JPC.

However, JPCs can also be set up “to investigate serious issues which have greatly agitated the public mind and which involve fraud or corruption on a large scale". In this regard, such committees are set up “on the basis of a consensus arrived at between the government and the opposition". The Lok Sabha Secretariat says that the “JPC is a well-known and potent investigative mechanism of Parliament".

What Is The Composition Of A JPC?

According to the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, the proportion of the members of the two Houses on a JPC “is approximately in the ratio of two members of Lok Sabha to one of Rajya Sabha". No member is to be named to a committee if they are unwilling to serve on it and, when it comes to JPCs, no ministers are supposed to be a part of it. For instance, after Meenakshi Lekhi was sworn in as a minister in the Narendra Modi government in July 2021, she ceased to be the chair of the JPC on the PDP Bill.

Parliamentary committees are operational for a period of one year or for a period specified by the Speaker or the motion that laid the grounds for their setting up or until a new committee is nominated.

What Are The Powers Of A JPC?

The Lok Sabha Secretariat says that a parliamentary committee may appoint sub-committees, pursue evidence or call for documents and summon persons, papers and records. Members of JPCs set up to go into proposed legislation can

suggest amendments to it.

Sittings of such committees are held in private and no member or anybody who has access to itd proceedings is permitted to communicate “directly or indirectly, to the press any information regarding its proceedings before the report has been presented to the House".

The report of these committees is presented to the House by its chairperson or, in the absence of the chairperson by any of its members. Members who do not agree with the majority report, “may append their minutes of dissent" to it.

What Have Been Some Investigative JPCs?

Amid the controversy over the Pegasus spy software during the 2021 Monsoon Session of Parliament, calls were made for the setting up of a JPC to probe the matter. Demands have also been made by the Opposition for a JPC to go into the Rafale fighter jet deal with Dassault Aviation of France.

Among the notable investigative JPCs have been the ones that probed the Bofors contract (1987), the stock market scam (2001), the alleged mixing of pesticide residues in soft drinks, fruit juices and other beverages (2003), and the 2G spectrum sale scam (2011).

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first published:July 23, 2021, 17:28 IST