Everything you need to know about Nepal’s parliamentary committee practices, from the first parliament to federal parliament

Thira Lal Bhusal’s ‘Sansadiya Samiti Abhyas: Pahilo Sansad dekhi Sanghiya Sansad Samma’ (Parliamentary Committee Practices: From the First Parliament to Federal Parliament) provides a concise introduction to Nepal’s parliamentary history, working of the Parliamentary Committees and their significance.

Jivesh Jha

  • Read Time 5 min.

In a democracy, Parliamentary Committees assist the parliament in its functions of deliberations, discussion and oversight. They provide a forum where members can engage with experts and other stakeholders and provide their inputs in the law-making process. 

In this context, Parliamentary Committee Practices: From the First Parliament to Federal Parliament edited by Thira Lal Bhusal provides a concise introduction to Nepal’s parliamentary history, working of the Parliamentary Committees and their significance in the oversight and enactment process. The book, which is published by Journalists Society for Parliamentary Affairs with support from Parliament Support Project, brings together a collection of five chapters which provide a critical investigation into the key issues, principles and themes on parliamentary democracy, parliamentary system of governance and international practices. A short foreword by Bernardo Cocco, Deputy Resident Representative for UNDP Nepal, sets the tone for the discussion on Nepal’s parliamentary practices. “This book is a good read for all who have interest in knowing the historical development of Parliamentary Committees and parliamentary system of Nepal,” writes Cocco.

In the first chapter, Bhusal, an eminent journalist, sheds light on Nepal’s experience with the parliamentary system. “Nepal should have headed on the strong pitch of democratic process followed by periodic democratic elections after the downfall of Rana oligarchy,” argues Bhusal. However, this could not happen.

Nepal witnessed the first general election in 2015 BS (1959). Rana rule came to an end in 1951. India had its first general election in 1951 whereas Nepal held the same after eight years. “In South Asian context, Nepal’s experience with parliamentary system is neither novel nor its short-lived,” argues Bhusal, adding, “unfortunately India and Nepal—two of the South Asian states—started their journey towards parliamentary system around the same time. However, over the years, India has consolidated its democratic system but Nepal failed to do so.” In fact, Nepal’s ostensible political instability and frequent ups and downs came in the way of parliamentary system.

Nepal experienced its first parliament in 2016 BS with a bicameral legislature. However, this parliament could not survive for long. It was dissolved by the then King Mahendra after 18 months of its formation. Afterwards, the party-less system of governance of King Mahendra existed for three decades where there was no room for parliament.

After the restoration of democracy in 2046 BS (1990), the country observed a general election in 2048 BS and henceforth, we developed a practice of having bicameral legislature at the center. Again, this system failed to last long. “This parliamentary system suffered backlash in 2051 BS with the dissolution of the House of Representative,” writes Bhusal. He argues that the Himalayan Republic felt the need of having a Constituent Assembly (CA) for enacting a fresh Constitution for the people. The drafting process (2008 to 2015 AD) kicked off in 2008 with the formation of CA-I, the unicameral body of 601-member, after its election. “The new constitution institutionalized a bicameral legislature at the center and a unicameral one at the provincial level.”

As the Parliamentary Committees work as a workshop of the parliament, they are called Mini Parliament. “The Parliamentary Committees play significant roles in law enactments and matters concerning far reaching consequences. It’s a universal practice to have different committees at parliament to address the serious issues of the people and to enact laws suiting the time and context,” argues Bhusal. He further says, “As Committees at parliament have remarkable roles to play, their actions and inactions are seriously studied world over.”

Bhusal’s timely exposition does not only sketch Nepal’s perspective but he also explains international precedents. “England is the first country in the world to have officially formed a parliamentary committee in 1571 and Public Accounts Committee in 1861.”

Acknowledging the British practices, India introduced the Public Accounts Committee in 1921 after its first mention in the Government of India Act, 1919. However, Bhusal maintains that the Public Accounts Committee became a Parliamentary Committee in India in 1950 with the promulgation of the Constitution.

Bhusal not only discusses Nepal’s perspective on parliamentary system but also devotes a good deal of section for international precedents. 

In his book, Bhusal devotes a good deal of sections to explain the functioning of parliamentary committees. For instance, “Parliamentary Hearing Committee is a novel concept in Nepal which came into practice after the second amendment to the 2007 Interim Constitution,” he writes on page 25. The Parliamentary Committees draw their authority from Article 292 of the Constitution of Nepal. “The composition/structure and jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Committees had never been fixed or permanent. There appears alteration in the Committees after every general election since 2015 BS,” argues Bhusal.

In Chapter-2, Bhusal shades light on different Parliamentary Committees and their functions in entire length and breadth. Chapter 3 deals with women’s representation in the parliamentary spectrum. “Since 2017, nine Committees (out of 16) were headed by women. Currently, the number of women MPs stands at 90 at House of Representatives while 22 at Upper House. In total, we have 112 women MPs which ensures 33.53 percent of representation,” further writes  Bhusal on page 79.

In Chapter-4, he critically studies the working of the Committees. “The Parliamentary Committees have failed to deliver because of a number of reasons. At times, it’s seen that the Committees keep changing their agendas.” On page 121, he writes that the Committees have themselves admitted that politicization of the issue is a big problem.

Bhusal is right in holding that politicization is to be blamed for the non-compliance of the recommendations of the Committees. “We don’t have adequate resources and research for the proper implementation of the recommendations of the Committees.”

In Chapter-5, the editor has incorporated views of five eminent persons, including Dr Bipin Adhikari and Umesh Mainali. Umesh Mainali, former Chair of the Public Service Commission, believes that “powerful persons should take the command of different Committees formed at the Parliament. If this could happen, then only, there would be close cooperation and coordination between parliament and its Committees.” In parliamentary democracy, “Separation of powers is confusion of power. There could not be actual application of separation of powers in parliamentary democracy as political parties with majority are, often, at the helm of power and in a position to direct the will of the government and House as well,” argues Mainali.

Seconding the views of Bhusal, Professor Dr Bipin Adhikari, founder Dean of Kathmandu University School of Law, argues that the Parliamentary Committees should be given resources. “It’s often seen that the Committees don’t have resources to hire experts. Members of Parliament engaged in Committees are yet to be provided with their own offices. If data is something to stand by, our Committees have produced noteworthy reports in matters relating to corruption and scams.” Dr Adhikari makes an important claim that Committees have performed their job effectively despite ineffective governments at the helm.  

If there is one reason to read Bhusal’s timely exposition it is his endeavors to give conceptual clarity on the parliamentary committees and their roles in a democracy. He does not only discuss Nepal’s perspective on parliamentary system but also devotes a good deal of section for international precedents. His book should be a mandatory reading for journalists covering parliamentary affairs, judges, judicial officers, teachers and students of various streams, including that of social sciences and law. 

Jivesh Jha, formerly a Lecturer of Law at Kathmandu University School of Law, is currently a Judicial Officer at Dhanusha District Court, Janakpurdham.

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