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100 years of Public Accounts Committee: Venkaiah Naidu calls for debate on freebies, Om Birla notes importance of House panels

Pointing out that resource base and their best use separate developing economies from developed ones, Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on Saturday called for a wider debate on “freebies” given by various governments and said there should be harmony between welfare and development objectives.

Addressing a function to mark the centennial celebrations of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), he said the PAC may be redesignated as Public Accounts and Audit Committee given the fact that audit review is also its core function.

The two-day event was inaugurated by President Ram Nath Kovind, who, in his address, said a “Parliamentary democracy would be incomplete without Parliamentary committees, and scrutiny of public accounts by the people’s representatives plays an important role in ensuring accountability, which is central to governance.”

Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said the main responsibility of democratic institutions is to make the government accountable and transparent to the people.

Emphasising the significance of House panels, President Kovind said: “Without Parliamentary committees, a Parliamentary democracy would be rendered incomplete. It is through the PAC that citizens keep a check on government finances. In Parliamentary democracy, accountability is central to governance.”

Speaking on freebies, Naidu said, “We are all alive to the present scenario of governments indulging in doling out freebees for obvious reasons. While ensuring the welfare and social security of the needy is an important obligation of the governments, it is time there is a wider debate on harmonising welfare and development objectives. Expenditures must be carefully balanced so that both short-term and long-term development objectives get equal attention.”

He said, “Since PAC has to examine the effectiveness of resource use in terms of socio-economic outcomes, it may be in order for the committee to examine the issue of balancing these two objectives for wider consideration.”

Birla pointed out that democratic institutions not only have a crucial role in nation-building but today are seen as “effective platforms for solving problems of the people and fulfilment of their expectations”.

Speakers of Legislative Assemblies from across the country attended the inaugural function. No senior minister was present.

Both Kovind and Birla lauded the role played by PACs in independent India’s history of governance. “It has been entrusted with a great responsibility of showing the virtue of prudence,” Kovind said. “It aids in finding better ways to raise the resources and, more importantly, to spend them efficiently on people’s welfare. With Parliament granting permission to the Executive to raise and spend funds, it has the duty to assess if funds were raised and spent accordingly.”

Birla said, “In a developing country like India, constructive suggestions of the PAC have not only promoted optimal use of financial resources but have also helped in improving government policies and programmes…”

The Speaker suggested that there should be one common platform for PACs of Parliament and state legislatures. “This will ensure better coordination and greater transparency and accountability of the Executive,” he said.

PAC chairman Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the committee works on non-party lines with a spirit of dedication and service to the country.

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