Adhir writes to Birla, seeks chairmanship for Congress of at least one substantive Parliament panel
The Congress on Saturday urged Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, citing convention, to ensure the party is given the chairmanship of at least one of the four major substantive parliament committees — Home Affairs, External Affairs, Defence and Finance. In a letter to Birla on Saturday, Congress’ leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged the government is reducing parliamentary committees to a “farce” and said that the “appropriate compensation” for taking away the chairmanship of the parliamentary standing committee on IT from the Congress would be to restore External Affairs to it.
He claimed the government is unprepared to deal with a committee chair doing his work seriously and professionally, and a committee serving as an independent voice expressing views that may not always be to the taste of the government of the day.
The Congress may lose the chairmanship of two crucial parliamentary committees on home affairs and information technology in an imminent rejig of the panels, sources had said on Thursday.
Referring to his earlier letter on the government’s decision of “seizing the chairmanship of the IT Committee for itself”, Chowdhury said he is writing to demand honourable treatment for the Indian National Congress, the principal Opposition party in the Lok Sabha, in keeping with well-established parliamentary conventions.
“While I am still awaiting a reply to my letter, it has been made orally clear to me that the decision in respect of the IT Committee will not be reversed. I wish to formally lodge my strong protest against this peremptory action, taken without the slightest justification,” Chowdhury said.
If the government is determined to retain the IT Committee for the ruling party, the Congress leader said, he would insist that as the principal opposition party, the Congress has every right to ask for one of the major substantive committees — Home Affairs, External Affairs, Defence or Finance.
At least three of these four have traditionally been chaired by the Opposition, Chowdhury argued.
“Indeed, in the previous (Sixteenth) Lok Sabha, when the Indian National Congress had only 44 MPs in the Lok Sabha, we chaired committees covering three of the top four ministries – Home (Anand Sharma), Finance (M Veerappa Moily) and External Affairs (Shashi Tharoor), while Defence was held by the BJP. Now, with 53 MPs, we have none of these,” he pointed out.
“I respectfully request you that, while the government may be within its rights to assign the IT Committee to itself, the appropriate compensation for the Congress party should be to restore External Affairs to us, which was taken away from our party in 2019,” he asserted.
Chowdhury argued that by convention, the principal Opposition party must have at least one of the top four committees.
“It is a dismaying state of affairs when the government fails to respect even the most elementary conventions of parliamentary democracy in riding roughshod over our concerns,” he said in his letter to Birla.
“We are all interested in seeing the parliamentary committee system function well and in the interests of all. The manner in which we have unilaterally been informed of such a decision is an act of disrespect on the government’s part for the principal Opposition party,” he said.
Chowdhury, in a letter to Birla dated September 21, had said the chairmanship of the parliamentary panel on information technology (IT) is being taken away from the party.
In the letter, Chowdhury had said he was “dismayed” to learn from Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi that a “decision has been taken to withdraw the allocation of the role of Chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT”, which is chaired by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
Stating that this is a departure from the existing conventions that have been honoured by successive governments, Chowdhury had said, “The government must understand that both the principle of deliberation and consultation, as well as conventions that encourage bipartisan cooperation within the functioning of critical bodies like DSRCs, must be honoured.”
According to sources, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge has also written a letter to Leader of the House Piyush Goyal, protesting against the government’s move to “take away” the chairmanship of the parliamentary committee on home affairs from the Congress.
The opposition party lost the chairmanship of the House panels on external affairs and finance after the 2019 general election.
At present, the Congress heads three parliamentary panels — Abhishek Manu Singhvi chairs the committee on home affairs, Tharoor chairs the panel on IT and Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh heads the committee on environment, science and technology.
There are 24 parliamentary standing committees, of which 16 are headed by Lok Sabha members and eight by Rajya Sabha members.
The panels are re-constituted every year.