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The decision comes before the start of the monsoon session of Parliament later this month. Mint
The decision comes before the start of the monsoon session of Parliament later this month. Mint

House panels set to be rejigged ahead of parliamentary session

  • The move by LS speaker, RS chairman puts a question mark over future of Cong leaders heading panels
  • LS speaker Om Birla and RS chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu have reached out to political parties

Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu have decided to reconstitute parliamentary standing committees before the start of the monsoon session of Parliament, in a departure from precedent that has baffled politicians and put a question mark over the future of some committee leaders from the Congress.

Birla and Naidu have reached out to the parliamentary party leaders of key political parties seeking suggestions for Members of Parliament (MPs) who could lead these committees.

The decision could also be a pointer to the fate of senior Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Anand Sharma who head parliamentary committees. The two former ministers were signatories to a letter written by 23 Congress leaders to interim president Sonia Gandhi demanding an overhaul of the party organization.

The ongoing parliamentary scrutiny of Facebook is also closely linked with any changes in the information technology committee. If the chairman, Tharoor, is changed, it could impact the nature of the scrutiny, whether to continue with it with vigour, delay it or drop it.

“This is perhaps the first time that the speaker has asked leaders of all parliamentary parties to suggest names for standing committees after the first year of this Lok Sabha. As general elections used to affect the one-year period for which standing committees used to be formed, it was established procedure that in the first year of government, all standing committees, including the chiefs of the panels, would get extended automatically," said a senior parliamentarian and head of a standing committee.

The Lok Sabha speaker and Rajya Sabha chairman are technically following the rules, senior leaders of political parties pointed out. However, they could not say why the decision was taken.

The decision could also impact the fate of Congress leader Jairam Ramesh who heads the standing committee on science and technology, environment, forests and climate change. Ramesh was not a signatory to the letter and was recently named chief whip of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha.

Tharoor’s leadership of the IT committee in particular came into public focus after he decided to invite Facebook (FB) executives before the panel to answer charges of political partisanship. His decision followed a Wall Street Journal report that alleged some FB officials were biased in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), leading to a Congress-BJP face-off.

“The tenure of the IT committee ends on 11 September and we are given to believe that contours of its reconstitution would be announced soon. It is difficult to say at this stage what will happen to the chairperson but it is a fact that at least two BJP members of the panel had written to Birla demanding his removal," an Opposition member of the IT committee said requesting anonymity.

“The norm is that as this Lok Sabha is barely one-year old and a big section of Rajya Sabha members have also joined recently, they should ideally continue in their committees," a senior leader heading a parliamentary party said, requesting anonymity. “If there is a move to change the chairpersons of parliamentary committees in the first year itself then the reasons behind it need to be explained. We cannot rule out that it is being done because of political compulsions," said this leader.

Some senior Congress leaders feel that if recent changes in the party are any indication, then younger leaders could be picked to fill in committee positions over those who wrote the letter to Sonia Gandhi.

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