Parliament Now The Interval Between Elections And Modi’s PR

Nowadays, sadly, a parliament session is the interval between elections and Modi’s Public Relations exercises. 

Usually, the winter session of parliament begins in the second half of November and adjourns before Christmas. This winter session, however, will begin from 7 December, just two days after voting ends in Gujarat. 

This isn’t the first time that parliament has been delayed on account of elections in Gujarat. The winter session of 2017 was shortened and delayed for exactly the same reason – elections in the home state of Messrs Modi and Shah. Keeping parliament running between Christmas and the New Year was the exception. Now it is quickly becoming the rule. In the last six years, the winter session has spilt over on three occasions after December 25. In contrast, in the two decades before 2014, this happened only once. 

The Constitution does not provide for a fixed schedule or minimum number of sittings for parliament. The President, on the advice of the Union Government, is empowered to summon both Houses provided that the interval between two sessions does not exceed six months. Conventionally, parliament is convened three times in a year – Budget Session (February – May), Monsoon Session (July – August) and Winter Session (November – December).

When the provision was being discussed in the Constituent assembly, suggestions were made to change the provision to ensure that parliament was convened more frequently. Members were wary of the practice prevalent before Independence when parliament only met once or twice a year, that too for the purpose of collecting and discussing revenue. In the Constituent Assembly, Professor KT Shah moved an amendment to keep the House in session throughout the year with intervals of not more than three months in between. HV Kamath was of the view that parliament must meet at least thrice a year and for long periods. It was felt that this was commensurate with the increased responsibility and membership of parliament post-Independence.

Dr BR Ambedkar did not concede to these suggestions, stating that the Constitution allowed the legislature to meet as frequently as it is needed. There was no cap on the maximum number of sittings or sessions, according to him. In fact, his fear was that “the sessions of parliament would be so frequent and so lengthy that the members of the legislature would probably themselves get tired of the sessions.” 

The great Dr. Ambedkar would surely not have taken kindly to what is happening in ‘New India'(!). From an average of 120 sittings annually between 1950-1970, the Lok Sabha now has just 68 sittings per year on average. The last time Rajya Sabha sat for 100 days per year was way back in 1974. In the last decade, the sittings per year for the Council of States has come down to 63 days. From 2014 it has reached disturbing levels. 

Here is a nugget. The need for a fixed schedule for parliament was felt as early as 1955, when the General Purposes Committee of the Lok Sabha recommended a fixed time table for the three sessions – Budget Session (1 February to 7 May), Autumn Session (15 July to 15 September), and Winter Session (5 November or the fourth day after Diwali, whichever is later, upto 22 December). This recommendation was accepted by the then Cabinet, and yet the time-table is blatantly ignored.

While researching this piece, I came across the minutes from a meeting held in 2001. The All India Conference of Presiding Officers, Chief Ministers, Ministers of Parliamentary Affairs, Leaders and Whips of Parties was convened in the Central Hall of Parliament. The Conference adopted a resolution urging mandatory sittings for Legislatures – 110 days for parliament and 90 and 50 days for Legislatures for big and small states, respectively. But who cares?

In 2019, I introduced a Private Member’s Bill to this effect. The Bill proposes to amend the Constitution to provide a fixed calendar for the three sessions of parliament and a minimum 100 days of sittings a year for each House. This will ensure that the Union Government cannot evade the accountability of the legislature by delaying the commencement of a session. It will also allow Members of parliament to plan their parliamentary agenda around the fixed schedule to take full advantage of every mechanism of parliamentary oversight and law-making.

The healthy functioning of a representative democracy requires regular parliamentary engagement on issues of public importance. It is time the Union Government relooks at the proposal to have a fixed schedule and a mandatory minimum number of sittings for parliament. 

Why would India ever want a parliament session being the interval between…

[This article appeared on | Monday, November 21, 2022]