Saturday, June 15, 2013

Legislative Control Over Administration

Internal control over administration exercised by the built-in mechanism of the executive is not sufficient to ensure complete administrative responsibility and accountability. In a democracy public officials are ultimately responsible to the people. The responsibility is exercised through their elected representatives. The public servant should not only be responsive but also responsible to the people i.e. must receive orders, must report compliance and must explain deviations to the people acting through their elected representatives. In a Parliamentary Democracy the executive itself is drawn from the Parliament. The control exercised by them is itself an indirect control by the Parliament. However, this political executive may also turn unresponsive to the people unless proper checks are exercised on them. The practice of the Parliamentary Government has, therefore, devised a number of means by which the Parliament can keep the political executive as well as the public administrator responsible to them. The civil servants in this system are not responsible directly to Parliament. They cannot be called to the Floor of the House. They cannot be criticized by name. They work under the cloak of ministerial responsibility. The Parliament holds them accountable through their Ministers who have to assume responsibility for the officers working under them.

Means Of Parliamentary Control

There are several ways in which Parliament exercises control over public administration. Some of the important means of control are described in brief below:

Control of Administrative Policy

The Parliament lays down the general policy by enacting the necessary legislation. Since the Parliamentary Government is run by the rule of the law, Legislative process provides a very important instrument to the Parliament to influence the Government policies. Even where the Parliament delegates the responsibility to make rules and regulations etc. it retains control by asking the executive to place these rules, regulations etc., on the floor of the House.

Control of Appropriation

The most effective control exercised by the Parliament over the executive is through its control over the pursue stings. No revenue can be raised, nor any expenditure incurred by the executive without the sanction of the Parliament. Obviously one who pays the piper calls the tune. It is often argued that the control of the Parliament over the financial administration is more nominal than real. Requests for grant cannot be revised because they are presented by executive which represents the majority in the Parliament. However, it must be realized that the power of modifying the budget proposals of the Government may not be exercised but the very fact that the Parliament has this power gives it a great deal of authority over the executive.

Even if the budget proposals of the Government are not normally modified by the Parliament the budgetary process gives the members a number of opportunities to discuss the policy of the Government. During the general discussion on the budget the members can criticize the general policy of the Government and can suggest alternatives. During discussion over the grants of different Departments, the Parliament can examine in detail the working of particular departments and make suggestions about improving their working. Similarly opportunities are also provided by discussions on the Appropriation Bill and the Financial Bill.

Audit and Report

The accounts of the Government are maintained and audited by the C&AG of India on behalf of the Parliament. The C&AG of India presents its audit and report to the President who passes it on the Legislature. The PAC of the Legislature examines this report and reports back to the Parliament with its comments. Discussions on the report of the PAC provides the Parliament an opportunity to pin-point comments on the working of the Government. These discussions often result in suggestions for the improvement of the working of the executive. This type of control exercised by the Parliament is often said to be in the nature of post-mortem examination. But, it also gives an opportunity to improve the future performance in the light of the past mistakes.

Interpolations - Parliamentary Questions

The first hour of business in the Parliament is the question hour every day. During this period the Members of Parliament are free to ask any questions from the Government and the concerned Ministers have to answer them. Usually a notice of one week is given to the Minister to answer the questions but at times short notice questions are also allowed. This device has been found very effective in keeping the Ministers and the civil servants on their toes. While the Minister actually answers the question, the civil servants have first to prepare the answers and get them approved by the Minister. The advantages of this device are-

  • It keeps the Ministers and the Public Servants alert to the public opinion.

  • It is an indigenous device to keep the experts responsive to a body of layman. It provides safeguards for the right and liberties of the citizens. In fact, it has been argued by some that the device of interpellations in the Parliament is equivalent in effectiveness to that of trial by jury or habeas corpus.

  • It informs the Minister about the happenings in the remote corners of the country. Since the machinery of the Government is spread over large areas, it is not possible for the minister to know about each and every thing happening at every place. However when anything goes wrong the concerned member representing that area may come to know of it because of his local connections and bring it to the notice of the Minister in the form of a question. It enables the Minister conduct enquiries and take necessary corrective action.

  • It enables the Government to feel the pulse of the people i.e. to know their reactions about the policies and programmes of the Government. The unpopular reaction of the people may be reflected through angry protests in the form of questions by their representatives.

  • It maintains the control of the Government by the people through their representatives. The members are able to ventilate the grievances of the people in the Parliament.


The disadvantages of the system of interpolation/Parliamentary questions are:

  • A lot of time of the Government servants and public money is wasted in collecting the replies of the Parliamentary questions. Many of these do not results in any substantial improvement in the administrative system.

  • Sometimes very useless questions are raised by the Members on behalf of some interested persons. It wastes the time of the Parliament as well as of the Government.

  • The device may also be carried too far to curb the initiative of the Government servants. They may think twice before taking a decision. They will always have to keep an eye on the possible reactions in the Parliamentary forum about their judgement.


However, in spite of the disadvantages, the system has really proved to be very helpful in keeping a check on the Executive by the Legislature. The very idea that the Government is required to answer a battery of questions every day before the representatives of the people, keeps the administrators alert.

Zero-Hour Discussion

Barack Obama has outlined an ambitious legislative programme for his second term in officeThis is an Indian innovation in the field of Parliamentary practice. It has emerged since 1962 as a powerful tool of control over the executive, although it is not a formally prescribed device available to the Members of Parliament. It is an extra-regular method and is invoked by the Members in the House immediately after the question hour but before the regular business of the day is taken up. That is why it is called the zero hour. During this period the Members of Parliament raise, subject to the permission of the Presiding Officer, the matter of public importance which has not been listed in the day's business. The half hour discussions have become very popular, especially because the normal business sometimes does not provide adequate opportunity for raising question of immediate importance.

1. Calling Attention Motion

Sometimes the Members bring to the notice of the House some very urgent matters through the device of calling attention motion. The Minister is usually given a short notice to prepare himself to ready to the calling attention motion raised by the Members. This also keeps the Minister and the civil servants on their toes as matters of immediate concern can be raised in the House. The administration is kept constantly under review and the inertness and callousness on the part of administration are controlled. Sometimes every the must trivial looking matter have given rise to the unearthing of big scandals.

2. Short Notice Discussions

Sometimes the Members are not satisfied with the answers to the questions or any information given by the Ministers on any particular subject of grave importance and urgency. The Speaker may permit short discussions on such matters with the agreement of the Government. These discussions are not more than 2.5 hours' duration. There is not voting on the discussion but the Government has to make a reply.

3. Adjournment Motion

The device of adjournment motion is a tool of day-to-day control and may be utilized for raising a discussion in the House of any specific question of an urgent matter of public importance. If allowed by the Presiding Officer, it results in the suspension of all other business of the House and immediate discussion on the subject. However, this device of adjournment motion is usually not permitted by the Speaker.

4. Debates and Discussion

Besides the control measures mentioned above, there are innumerable opportunities for the Members to discuss and debate on matters of public importance. Some of these occasions are inaugural speech of the President, the budget speech of the Finance Minister, the general discussion on the budget, full scale discussions on Government policies etc.

5. Committee of Parliament

  • We have already discussed above the role of the PAC in exercising control over the financial administration of the country. Besides, there is an Estimates Committees of the Parliament which examines the estimates of the Departments before they are included in the budget. The Committee also suggests measures of economy and efficiency in the Government which have a great bearing on the tone of administration. The discussion on the report of the Committee gives the Members an occasion to discuss and criticize the working of the Government Department which have been studied by the Committee.


  • There is a Committee on Assurances. This Committee functions under the control of the Speaker. It often happens that the Ministers give assurances and make promises in the Parliament during various discussions. Earlier there was no follow-up on these promises and assurances until a Member himself sought to follow them up. The Parliamentary Committee on Assurances now obtains a report of compliance from the concerned Ministries and Departments. After examining them the Committee submits its periodical reports to the Parliament. This gives the Members of Parliament an opportunit to have a look at the report and thereby to exercise control over the fulfillment of the promises made by the ministers to the Parliament. The Committee has accordingly strengthened the Parliaments control over the administration. Ministers can no longer afford to make false statements and exaggerate the promise. The administration is also spurred on to action since they know that the matter will come up again before the Parliamentary Committee on Assurances.



  • Committee on Subordinate Legislation. While making laws the Parliament leaves a number of matters to the executive for making rules, regulations, etc. These rules, regulations should be in conformity with the general scheme of laws indicated by the Parliament. To ensure that this is so, the Committee on Subordinate Legislation examines these rules, regulations, etc., and presents its report to Parliament. This gives the Parliament enough control to ensure that the powers of the delegated Legislation are not misused by the Government.


There are some other Committees like Petitions Committee etc., which help the Parliament in exercising control over administration. The advantages of the Committee are:

  • The Committees develop some sort of an expertise over a period of time in the matters with which they are concerned;

  • They tend to gather a lot of data by hearing experts from different fields.


Appleby's Comments

Appleby has analyzed Indian Parliament's role in Controlling Indian Administration. He says that the Indian Parliament has been very successful in discussing general policy issues. They have, however, not been very effective in exercising proper control over administration. He has listed that following problems:

  • Members of Parliament give too much importance to the repot of the C&AG of India. Accroding to Appleby C&AG's report is based on the examination of technical financial irregularities and is not of much significance. Of course, this view is open to question. Most of the people think that C&AG's report is a valuable document and a very good instrument for the Parliament to exercise control over administration.

  • Appleby felt that Indian Parliament was very much influenced by the rich businessmen. Their control on administration was, therefore, not impartial.

  • The excessive control exercised by the Parliament curbs the initiative of the civil servants. They, therefore, become timid and do not take bold actions.

  • The Members of Parliament constantly feel that the civil servants are out to undermine their authority and are not responsive to the public. This is reflected in most of their discussion and actions. It does not inculcate healthy habits in the civil servants.

  • Ministers, feels that the Parliament is in strong and privileged position. By free and frank discussion and debates they can exercise healthy influence on the administration. However, if they abuse their position and tend to exercise tight control it may curb the initiative of the civil servants.



Under this system there is a greater separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislature. The executive does not sit in the Parliament nor is answerable to tit. Very often the Executive does not even have the device majority in the House. In such a situation the usual device available in the Parliamentary form of Government, namely, questions, discussions, no confidence motion, etc., are not available in the Presidential system. However, the Congress has other methods, are given below:

  • Statutory definition of the organisation, powers and duties of the administrative authorities - the US Congress very often creates organisations like Independent Regulatory Commissions which are directly answerable to it under specific statutes.

  • Investigations for Administrative Control. The Congress appoints a number of Committees to investigate various matters of importance pertaining to the actions of the executive. These Congressional Committees go into the working of the Departments and are often dreaded by them.

  • Legislation laying down Policies, Methods and Procedures. In Presidential system the Legislation is meant to exercise more control than in Parliamentary System.

  • Budgetary Process. The Congress controls the receipts through taxation and expenditure through Appropriation Acts. It also fixes the purpose and amounts of expenditure, ceilings on various items and examination of accounts and audits.

  • Equivalent of No Confidence Motion. The equivalent of no confidence motion is impeachment. The Congress can remove the Chief Executive i.e. President through the process of impeachment which is a much more difficult process than the confidence motion available in the Parliamentary System.

  • Direction of Administration by elected representatives as under the Commission plan of city government.



Some of the limitations of Legislative Control are discussed below:

  • In the formulation of policies, executive plays a decisive role. The bills are initiated by the Government. In fact, there are few private bills presented in the House and still fewer which are accepted. The legislative leadership usually is, in fact, with the executive.

  • The work of the Government has increased in volume and complexity. The Legislature do not have the necessary time and expertise to exercise control over the executives.

  • Even the financial control through budget is not very effective because:

  • Not understanding the technicalities, the Members are reluctant to criticize the demand for grants;

  • The Parliament cannot raise tax without an executive's proposals. Of course, it can reduce or reject the tax, but tax can be proposed or increased only when it is initiated by the executive.

  • Due to party system the political parties keep engaging in parochial and partisan affairs. They spend too much time on that. They have hardly any time to exercise control over bureaucracy. Their control over the policy is also tenuous.

  • There are some areas on which the Control of the legislature is almost minimal. One such area is Defence. Defence matters are not thoroughly discussed due to the veil of secrecy surrounding them.



The most important question about the control of the Legislature over the Executive is the extent to which such control should be exercised. To a certain extent it is absolutely essential that he public servants should be under some kind of popular control. They would otherwise tend to be callous and insensitive towards aspirations of the people. The Legislators representing the people have, therefore, a legitimate right and duty to exercise the correct amount of control over executives. However, if it taken to the other extreme and the Parliament tend to exercise control over the administrative details, the initiative of the executive will be hampered. It is, therefore, better to have a balanced approach in which the popular control is exercised consistent with the necessary to maintain the initiative and drive of the executive.


Post a Comment