Rajya Sabha Chairperson and Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar has been accused of “blurring the distinction” between personal and legislature staff after he put eight of his personal staff members on support teams for 20 parliamentary committees.
“Such a thing has never happened in the past,” a retired Parliament official told The Telegraph, seeking anonymity.
“With this order, the Rajya Sabha Chairperson has blurred the distinction between personal staff and the usual secretarial staff of the legislature.”
The former bureaucrat added: “Some of the staff attached to the committees are purely private persons, not from any government service, who happen to have been engaged as personal staff of the Vice-President (VP) and the Rajya Sabha (RS) Chairperson.”
Each parliamentary panel, devoted to a particular subject, has about 30 members and is headed by a senior MP. Each panel is assisted by a team of secretarial staff, who write letters to the members about the sittings, call government officials or independent experts to the panel meetings as decided by the committees, and help draft the panels’ reports. “The committees often deal with confidential matters,” the retired Parliament official said.
“But now the personal staff whom the RS Chairperson has embedded in the secretarial teams will be allowed to be present at the meetings of these panels.”
Speaking at a book release on Thursday, Dhankhar defended his action. “You know the importance of (House) committees. I got inputs from a number of members and chairmen of committees to do something affirmative to improve productivity,” he said.
“So, I sharpened the human resource attached to the committees. I put research-oriented, knowledgeable people so that they can help the committee members optimise output and performance.”
Dhankhar went on to engage in a bout of semantics, objecting to the wording of some purported media reports.
“But a narrative has been set afloat by sections of the media that the (Rajya Sabha) Chairman has appointed his own members to the committees. Has anyone even checked the facts?” he said.
“Committees comprise the MPs. It is their exclusive domain. I am terribly upset and concerned about what our editors are doing. Can you engage in such a narrative that is based on falsehood? And you don’t care to check the truth?”
He added: “I have acted because the chairmen and members (of parliamentary committees) had come up to me, and I’m doing it after multi-layered consultations.” Congress Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh challenged Dhankhar’s claim that the committee chairpersons had been consulted.
“The Chairman of Rajya Sabha has said that his controversial move to have his staff attached to various committees was after consultations with the respective Chairpersons. I chair a Standing Committee and I can categorically say I was not consulted at all,” Ramesh tweeted on Thursday.
According to a March 7 order by the Rajya Sabha secretariat, Sujeet Kumar, private secretary to the VP, has been attached to the Committee on Privileges, Committee on Information Communication Technology, Committee on Science Technology and Environment, and the Committee on Commerce.
Rajesh N. Naik, officer on special duty (OSD) to the VP, has been attached to the Business Advisory Committee, General Purpose Committee and the Committee on Home Affairs. Akhil Choudhary, OSD to the RS Chairperson, has been attached to the Ethics Committee, Committee on Industry and the Committee on Papers Laid on Table.
A.S. Shekhawat, OSD to the VP, has been attached to the House Committee, Committee on Petitions and the Committee on Health and Family Welfare. Dinesh D, OSD to the RS Chairperson, has been attached to the Committee on MPLADS and the Committee on Personnel and Law.
Kaustubh Sudhakar Bhalekar, OSD to the RS Chairperson, has been put on the Committee on Rules and the Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture; Sanjay Verma, additional private secretary to the VP, has been attached to the Committee on Government Assurances; and Aditi Chaudhary, private secretary to the RS Chairperson, has been attached to the Committee on Subordinate Legislation and the Committee on Education.