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No impact of withdrawal of special allowance on attendance in standing committees with Rajya Sabha, panels 'fare well' despite pandemic

By Payal Mehta | Updated: Jan 18, 2022 17:50 IST

New Delhi [India], January 18 (ANI): Contrary to perception in some quarters, withdrawal of a special allowance to the Members of Parliament for attending the meetings of the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committees (DRSCs) has had no impact on their attendance in the meetings of these committees, Rajya Sabha sources said.
According to an analysis undertaken by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat on the directions of Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, the attendance increased during 2019-20 despite the COVID-19 outbreak when the special allowance, which entitles members to 25 per cent of airfare for attending the committee meetings, was not available. The allowance was discontinued from April 1, 2018.
During 2016-17 (mid-September to mid-September), when the allowance was available for the full year, the average attendance in 119 meetings of eight department-related standing committees was 47.64 per cent and it increased to 48.79 per cent for 119 meetings during 2019-20 when such allowance was not allowed.
During 2017-18, the special allowance was available for six months. During 2018-19, all the eight committees of Rajya Sabha reported low attendance perhaps due to the general elections to Lok Sabha in the first half of 2019.
Sources said 2016-17 was taken as the reference year for assessing the impact of attendance in committee meetings in 2019-20 and 2020-21. The standing committees are reconstituted in September and have a tenure of one year.
The average attendance increased from 47.64 per cent during 2016-17 to 48.79 per cent during 2019-20 despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 and its peaking in September that year. The attendance, however, fell marginally to 44.59 per cent for 136 meetings during 2020-21 (September - September) as the country witnessed the outbreak of a more severe second wave of the pandemic during the first half of 2021.
The analysis showed that four standing committees - Transport, Tourism and Culture; Health and Family Welfare; Education, Women, Child Development, Youth Affairs and Sports; and Commerce witnessed a significant rise in attendance in 2019-2020 in comparison to 2016.
The average attendance in committees like Home Affairs, Science and Technology and Law and Justice maintained attendance like that in 2016-17. Only the Committee on Industry showed a decline in attendance.
During 2019-20 and 2020-21 when 255 meetings were held of 8 committees with the Rajya Sabha despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the average attendance has been 46.75 per cent, only marginally lower than that of 2016-17. For this two year period, four committees - Education, Commerce, Science and Technology and Law and Justice - improved attendance over that of the reference year of 2016-17.
Sources said the analysis which was presented to the Rajya Sabha chairman has established that withdrawal of the special allowance to MPs with effect from April 1, 2018, has had no impact on the attendance in the meetings of the eight DRSCs with Rajya Sabha during the two year period even as this period was marked by the pandemic.
Given the importance of the standing committees introduced in 1993, the Rajya Sabha Chairman has been regularly reviewing the functioning of panels of the House and has been referring to their work in his opening and closing remarks during each session of the House. Chairpersons of the eight committees have been urged to ensure attendance of 50 per cent and average duration of 2.30 hours per meeting.
The analysis revealed that the average duration of meetings of the eight DRSCs of Rajya Sabha has increased from one hour 48 minutes during 2016-17 to two hours six minutes for 2019-21.
The committee on Home Affairs reported the highest increase of 49 minutes per meeting followed by Commerce 48 minutes, Education - 42 minutes, Transport -35 minutes and Industry -13 minutes. The committees on Science and Technology and Health and Family Welfare maintained the status quo.
During the discussions on the functioning of DRSCs by the Rajya Sabha Chairman with MPs and leaders, references were made to the withdrawal of the special allowance to MPs in 2018 and its possible impact on the attendance.
This came up for discussion during the meeting of floor leaders with the Chairman on the last day of the winter session on August 23 last year. Venkaiah Naidu then directed the Rajya Sabha Secretariat to empirically examine the impact of the withdrawal of special allowance to MPs on attendance in the meetings of eight committees of the House.
These committees with 31 MPs - 11 from Rajya Sabha and 20 from Lok Sabha are also known as mini-parliament. Twenty-four such committees including 16 of Lok Sabha work round the year and take up detailed scrutiny of annual demands for grants of various ministries and departments besides examining and reporting on bills referred to them from time to time. They also take up suo moto examination of the implementation of various policies and programmes of the government. Deliberations in these committees are generally above the political divide resulting mostly in unanimous reports and recommendations. (ANI)