POV: THE UN(MAK­ING) OF PAR­LIA­MENT

India Today - - INSIDE - By S.Y. Qu­raishi The writer is a former chief elec­tion com­mis­sioner and au­thor of

The de­lay in an­nounc­ing the date for the com­mence­ment of the win­ter ses­sion of Par­lia­ment has caused great con­cern. The ses­sion gen­er­ally starts in the third week of Novem­ber. Par­lia­ment rules re­quire that the dates for the House ses­sion be an­nounced 15 days in ad­vance to give MPs am­ple time to come to Delhi. With no such an­nounce­ment made for this year’s win­ter ses­sion at the time of writ­ing (21 Novem­ber), it is most likely that the nor­mally month-long ses­sion will be short­ened, if not scrapped. Ri­vals of the BJP have raised se­ri­ous ob­jec­tions to the de­lay. The re­ac­tion of po­lit­i­cal par­ties is on ex­pected lines. The gen­eral al­le­ga­tion is that the BJP is look­ing to de­lay/ scrap the win­ter ses­sion so that the is­sues raised by the op­po­si­tion do not cloud the judge­ment of vot­ers when Gu­jarat votes on De­cem­ber 9 and 14.

On 30 Oc­to­ber, Derek O’Brien of the Tri­namool Congress tweeted: “Can we ex­pect dates for the win­ter ses­sion to be an­nounced to­day? Any­one lis­ten­ing?” Anand Sharma, Congress deputy leader in the Ra­jya Sabha, said: “The prime min­is­ter is run­ning away from Par­lia­ment and de­bates... What is hap­pen­ing is an as­sault on democ­racy.” Even So­nia Gandhi has come out strongly on the is­sue.

On the other hand, news­pa­per re­ports quote a se­nior mem­ber of the Union gov­ern­ment as say­ing: “A large sec­tion of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, in­clud­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, min­is­ters in the Union gov­ern­ment and many se­nior Congress lead­ers, will be busy in the elec­tion cam­paign, which could ad­versely im­pact the win­ter ses­sion. Most of the 37 MPs, 26 from the Lok Sabha and 11 from the Ra­jya Sabha, will also be in­volved in cam­paign­ing; it makes sense to de­lay the ses­sion... If most of the BJP and Congress lead­ers are busy in Gu­jarat, ...it will be dif­fi­cult to hold mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sions on im­por­tant leg­is­la­tion in the ab­sence of a vast num­ber of MPs from the rul­ing party and the main op­po­si­tion.”

If the ses­sion is in­deed de­layed till af­ter the Gu­jarat elec­tions or is can­celled, it will be a blow to the demo­cratic process of the coun­try. Se­nior BJP leader Yash­want Sinha, mir­ror­ing sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments, tweeted: “It will be a sad day for In­dian democ­racy if the win­ter ses­sion of Par­lia­ment is post­poned on ac­count of [the] Gu­jarat elec­tions.”

It is, how­ever, nec­es­sary to re­mem­ber that no fixed date is laid down in the rules. The past 10 ses­sions have com­menced on dates far apart—rang­ing from 9 Novem­ber in 2010 to 5 De­cem­ber in 2013. In 2008, the ses­sion was dropped al­to­gether. The only rule is that there should not be a gap of more than six months be­tween two ses­sions. By that logic, the mon­soon ses­sion hav­ing ended on 11 Au­gust, there’s time till Fe­bru­ary!

The win­ter ses­sions were de­layed in 2003, 2008 and 2013 due to elec­tions in Delhi, Ra­jasthan, Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh. The can­cel­la­tion of the ses­sion in 2008, by the then UPA gov­ern­ment, was pur­port­edly be­cause the prime min­is­ter was out of the coun­try. There was no ma­jor hue and cry though the rea­son was far from com­pelling.

Whim­si­cal sched­ul­ing/ can­celling of House ses­sions by the gov­ern­ment of the day is cer­tainly a chal­lenge to the pri­macy of Par­lia­ment. How­ever, what is harder to ig­nore is that there has been a marked de­cline in the im­por­tance of Par­lia­ment, as is ev­i­dent from the down­trend in the num­ber and du­ra­tion of sit­tings since the first Lok Sabha (1952-57). Reg­u­lar ses­sions with healthy de­bates are vi­tal to the sur­vival of a rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy.

It’ll be good to fix a min­i­mum num­ber of sit­tings for each ses­sion as well as the open­ing dates of Par­lia­ment ses­sions to min­imise the scope for pol­i­tick­ing on this is­sue. This will en­sure that de­lib­er­a­tions on pol­icy and leg­is­la­tion do not take a hit ev­ery time a state goes to elec­tions.

An Un­doc­u­mented Won­der—the Mak­ing of the Great In­dian Elec­tion

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