POV: THE UN(MAKING) OF PARLIAMENT
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.
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