Congress protests as govt sets up new House committees

Hindustan Times, September 14, 2019

Congress leaders protested on Friday as the party appeared to lose the chairmanship of the Lok Sabha’s external affairs committee that it previously held, with the government announcing names of those leading Parliament’s new standing committees.

While Bharatiya Janata Party MP PP Chaudhury will lead the committee on external affairs, the finance panel will be headed by former minister Jayant Sinha, an official statement said.

In a reshuffle, Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien was not retained as the chairman of the travel, tourism and culture committee. Trinamool’s Lok Sabha floor leader Sudip Bandopadhyay will be the chairman of the panel on consumer affairs, the statement said.

The role of the standing committees is to review the functioning of their respective ministries and submit reports on relevant issues or bills after scrutinising them. The files on the appointments were cleared by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on Friday.

With the latest move, the Congress, which has 52 lawmakers in the current Lok Sabha, will be left with just one panel to lead in the Lower House — the panel on information technology. The Congress had chaired two committees in the previous Lok Sabha, when it had 44 members in the Lower House.

The Congress’ floor leader, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said: “We have been informed that we will get the chairmanship of just one panel… I had shot a protest letter to parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi. I told him that functioning of Parliament means there should be some checks and balance. It is also the right of the parties to head the panels.”

Chowdhury said that in the best interest of parliamentary democracy, the Congress must be given its due. “I also reminded him that when we had 44 MPs, we headed two panels and now we are a 52-member team but you want to give us just one panel to head. This is injustice,” said Chowdhury.

According to an official who did not wish to be named, government managers have told Chowdhury that the ruling BJP too has grown in numbers and the panels need to be adjusted accordingly.

Congress lawmaker Shashi Tharoor, who headed the foreign affairs panel in the last Lok Sabha, hit out at the BJP, calling the decision “one more blow to our soft power, image and international reputation as a mature democracy”. Tharoor said this is the first time the foreign ministry panel was not given to the main Opposition party.

Congress leaders Anand Sharma and Jairam Ramesh will head two Rajya Sabha panels: home affairs, and science and technology. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi will be a member of the defence panel, according to the statement.

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