Last week, the Departmentally Related Standing Committees were reconstituted for the first year of the 17th Lok Sabha. In this context, we discuss the functioning and role of Standing Committees.
The visible part of Parliament’s work takes place on the floor of the House. Parliament meets for three sessions a year i.e., the Budget, Monsoon, and Winter Sessions. This part of Parliament’s work is televised and closely watched. However, Parliament has another forum through which a considerable amount of its work gets done. These are known as Parliamentary Committees. These Committees are smaller units of MPs from both Houses, across political parties and they function throughout the year. These smaller groups of MPs study and deliberate on a range of subject matters, Bills, and budgets of all the ministries.
During the recently concluded first Session of the 17th Lok Sabha, Parliament sat for 37 days. In the last 10 years, Parliament met for 67 days per year, on average. This is a short of amount of time for MPs to be able to get into the depth of matters being discussed in the House. Since Committees meet throughout the year, they help make up for this lack of time available on the floor of the House.
Parliament deliberates on matters that are complex, and therefore needs technical expertise to understand such matters better. Committees help with this by providing a forum where Members can engage with domain experts and government officials during the course of their study. For example, the Committee on Health and Family Welfare studied the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 which prohibits commercial surrogacy, but allows altruistic surrogacy. As MPs come from varying backgrounds, they may not have had the expertise to understand the details around surrogacy such as fertility issues, abortion, and regulation of surrogacy clinics, among others. The Committee called upon a range of stakeholders including the National Commission for Women, doctors, and government officials to better their understanding of the issues, before finalising their report.
Committees also provide a forum for building consensus across political parties. The proceedings of the House during sessions are televised, and MPs are likely to stick to their party positions on most matters. Committees have closed door meetings, which allows them to freely question and discuss issues and arrive at a consensus.
After a Committee completes its study, it publishes its report which is laid in Parliament. These recommendations are not binding, however, they hold a lot of weight. For example, the Standing Committee on Health made several recommendations to the National Medical Commission Bill in 2017. Many of these were incorporated in the recently passed 2019 Bill, including removing the provision for allowing a bridge course for AYUSH practitioners.
There are 24 such Departmentally Related Standing Committees (DRSCs), each of which oversees a set of Ministries. DRSCs were set up first in 1993, to ensure Parliament could keep with the growing complexity of governance. These are permanent Committees that are reconstituted every year. They consist of 21 Members from Lok Sabha, and 10 Members from Rajya Sabha, and are headed by a Chairperson. The DRSCs primarily look at three things: (i) Bills, (ii) budgets, and (iii) subject specific issues for examination. Other types of Standing Committees include Financial Committees which facilitate Parliament’s scrutiny over government expenditure. Besides these, Parliament can also form ad hoc Committees for a specific purpose such as addressing administrative issues, examining a Bill, or examining an issue.
To ensure that a Bill is scrutinised properly before it is passed, our law making procedure has a provision for Bills to be referred to a DRSC for detailed examination. Any Bill introduced in Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha can be referred to a DRSC by either the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Over the years, the Committees have immensely contributed to strengthen the laws passed by Parliament. For example, the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, overhauling the 1986 law, was recently passed during the Budget Session. An earlier version of the Bill had been examined by the Committee on Food and Consumer Affairs, which suggested several amendments such as increasing penalties for misleading advertisements, making certain definitions clearer. The government accepted most of these recommendations and incorporated them in the 2019 Act.
Besides Bills, the DRSCs also examine the budget. The detailed estimates of expenditure of all ministries, called Demand for Grants are sent for examination to the DRCSs. They study the demands to examine the trends in allocations, spending by the ministries, utilisation levels, and the policy priorities of each ministry. However, only a limited proportion of the budget is usually discussed on the floor of the House. In the recently dissolved16th Lok Sabha, 17% of the budget was discussed in the House.
Committees also examine policy issues in their respective Ministries, and make suggestions to the government. The government has to report back on whether these recommendations have been accepted or not. Based on this, the Committees then table an Action Taken Report, which shows status of the government’s action on each recommendation.
While Committees have substantially impacted Parliament’s efficacy in discharging its roles, there is still scope for strengthening the Committee system. In the 16th Lok Sabha, DRSCs examined 41 Bills, 331 Demands for Grants, 197 issues, and published 503 Action Taken Reports.
However, the rules do not require that all Bills be examined by a Committee. This leads to some Bills being passed without the advantage of a Committee scrutinising its technical details. Recently, there has been a declining trend in the percentage of Bills being referred to a Committee. In the 15th LS, 71% of the Bills introduced were referred to Committees for examination, as compared to 27% in the 16th Lok Sabha.
With the DRSCs now constituted for the first year of the 17th Lok Sabha, they will soon begin their meetings to select the subjects they are going to examine. Some Committees already have Bills to examine that were referred to them during the 16th Lok Sabha. Some of these Bills are: (i) the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2019, (ii) the Allied and Healthcare Professions Bill, 2018, and (iii) the Registration of Marriage of Non- Resident Indian Bill, 2019. So far in the 17th Lok Sabha no Bill has been referred to a Committee yet.
The National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today. It was passed by Lok Sabha last week. The Bill creates a regulatory framework for anti-doping rule violations in sports. It was examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports, and some of their recommendations have been incorporated in the Bill passed by Lok Sabha.
Doping is the consumption of certain prohibited substances by athletes to enhance performance. Across the world, doping is regulated and monitored by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which is an independent international agency established in 1999. WADA’s primary role is to develop, harmonise, and coordinate anti-doping regulations across all sports and countries. It does so by ensuring proper implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADA Code) and its standards. In this blog post, we discuss the need of the framework proposed by the Bill, and give insights from the discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha.
Doping in India
Recently, two Indian athletes failed the doping test and are facing provisional suspension. In the past also, Indian athletes have been found in violation of anti-doping rules. In 2019, according to WADA, most of the doping rule violations were committed by athletes from Russia (19%), followed by Italy (18%), and India (17%). Most of the doping rule violations were committed in bodybuilding (22%), followed by athletics (18%), cycling (14%), and weightlifting (13%). In order to curb doping in sports, WADA requires all countries to have a framework regulating anti-doping activities managed by their respective National Anti-Doping Organisations.
Currently, doping in India is regulated by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), which was established in 2009 as an autonomous body under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. One issue with the existing framework is that the anti-doping rules are not backed by a legislation and are getting challenged in courts. Further, NADA is imposing sanctions on athletes without a statutory backing. Taking into account such instances, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2021) had recommended that the Department of Sports bring in an anti-doping legislation. Other countries such as the USA, UK, Germany, and Japan have enacted legislations to regulate anti-doping activities.
Framework proposed by the National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021
The Bill seeks to constitute NADA as a statutory body headed by a Director General appointed by the central government. Functions of the Agency include planning, implementing and monitoring anti-doping activities, and investigating anti-doping rule violations. A National Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel will be set up for determining consequences of anti-doping rule violations. This panel will consist of legal experts, medical practitioners, and retired athletes. Further, the Board will constitute an Appeal Panel to hear appeals against decisions of the Disciplinary Panel. Athletes found in violation of anti-doping rules may be subject to: (i) disqualification of results including forfeiture of medals, points, and prizes, (ii) ineligibility to participate in a competition or event for a prescribed period, (iii) financial sanctions, and (iv) other consequences as may be prescribed. Consequences for team sports will be specified by regulations.
Initially, the Bill did not have provisions for protected athletes but after the Standing Committee’s recommendation, provisions for such athletes have been included in the Bill. Protected persons will be specified by the central government. As per the WADA Code, a protected person is someone: (i) below the age of 16, or (ii) below the age of 18 and has not participated in any international competition in an open category, or (iii) lacks legal capacity as per their country’s legal framework
Issues and discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha
During the discussion on the Bill, members highlighted several issues. We discuss these below-
Independence of NADA
One of the issues highlighted was the independence of the Director General of NADA. WADA requires National Doping Organisations to be independent in their functioning as they may experience external pressure from their governments and national sports bodies which could compromise their decisions. First, under the Bill, the qualifications of the Director General are not specified and are left to be notified through Rules. Second, the central government may remove the Director General from the office on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity or “such other ground”. Leaving these provisions to the discretion of the central government may affect the independence of NADA.
Privacy of athletes
NADA will have the power to collect certain personal data of athletes such as: (a) sex or gender, (ii) medical history, and (iii) whereabout information of athletes (for out of competition testing and collection of samples). MPs expressed concerns about maintaining the privacy of athletes. The Union Sports Minister in his response, assured the House that all international privacy standards will be followed during collection and sharing of data. Data will be shared with only relevant authorities.
Under the Bill, NADA will collect and use personal data of athletes in accordance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information. It is one of the eight ‘mandatory’ standards of the World Anti-Doping Code. One of the amendments moved by the Union Sports Minister removed the provision relating to compliance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information.
Establishing more testing laboratories across states
Currently India has one National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL). MPs raised the demand to establish testing laboratories across states to increase testing capacity. The Minister responded by saying that if required in the future, the government will establish more testing laboratories across states. Further, in order to increase testing capacity, private labs may also be set up. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) also emphasised the need to open more dope testing laboratories, preferably one in each state, to cater to the need of the country and become a leader in the South East Asia region in the areas of anti-doping science and education.
In August, 2019 a six-month suspension was imposed on NDTL for not complying with International Standard for Laboratories (ISL) by WADA. The suspension was extended for another six months in July, 2020 due to non-conformity with ISL. The second suspension was to remain in effect until the Laboratory complies with ISL. However, the suspension was extended for another six months in January, 2021 as COVID-19 impacted WADA’s ability to conduct an on-site assessment of the Laboratory. In December, 2021 WADA reinstated the accreditation of NDTL.
Several athletes in India are not aware about the anti-doping rules and the prohibited substances. Due to lack of awareness, they end up consuming prohibited substances through supplements. MPs highlighted the need to conduct more awareness campaigns around anti-doping. The Minister informed the House that in the past one year, NADA has conducted about 100 hybrid workshops relating to awareness on anti-doping. The Bill will enable NADA to conduct more awareness campaigns and research in anti-doping. Further, the central government is working with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to test dietary supplements consumed by athletes.
While examining the Bill, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) recommended several measures to improve and strengthen the antidoping ecosystem in the country. These measures include: (i) enforcing regulatory action towards labelling and use of ‘dope-free’ certified supplements, and (ii) mandating ‘dope-free’ certification by independent bodies for supplements consumed by athletes.