Under Cover

The unreasonable secrecy of parliamentary committees

In 2009, a parliamentary committee rejected the journalist Sudheendra Kulkarni’s view that his disclosure of the proceedings of another committee was protected under his right to free speech.
sonu mehta / hindustan times / getty images

In February 2014, the United Progressive Alliance government announced a new policy that significantly increased the transparency of India’s lawmaking process. The “pre-legislative consultative policy” mandated that every proposed bill be made available for public scrutiny before its introduction in the parliament. Prior to this, several government ministries had effectively treated draft laws as secret until they came up for legislative scrutiny.

Since debates on the floors of both houses of the legislature are televised, and since the parliament maintains publically accessible, verbatim records, the country’s parliamentary proceedings are already transparent. With the new policy, it appeared that, from conception to passage through parliament, every part of a law’s creation would now be conducted entirely in the public’s view.

But, in fact, a key aspect of lawmaking is still relatively hidden from public scrutiny. Apart from being debated in the parliament, most bills are also discussed in depth in meetings of parliamentary committees, which can exercise great influence over proposed legislation. These committees’ deliberations remain largely confidential. Officially, legislators cite “parliamentary privilege” to justify this. This confidentiality is worrying, since it is entirely conceivable that in some parliamentary committees, powerful forces with hidden agendas affect our legislation, with the public unaware of it.

Prashant Reddy Thikkavarapu studied law at the National Law School of India University and Stanford Law School, and is currently a research associate at the school of law at Singapore Management University. He tweets as @preddy85.