Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Vijay Goel on Friday declared that constitutional convention allowed the Union government to hold back calling the winter session of Parliament. Interacting with THE WEEK, Goel said, “All the hullabaloo by the Congress over the delay in winter session is completely uncalled for. We will have a smooth and fruitful winter session this time.”
The government had called for the session between December 15 and January 5, 2018. This came after the government and the opposition were at daggers drawn for weeks over the issue. An official announcement on the dates is awaited. Apparently, the lawmakers will get a four-day break for Christmas but will have to work on New Year’s Day.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi said recently that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had the audacity to convene a midnight session for the ill-prepared GST but he now lacked the courage to face Parliament. “The Union government has cast a dark shadow on our country’s parliamentary democracy by sabotaging the winter session on such flimsy grounds,” Sonia said.
We were just taking care to make sure that the session didn’t overlap with the assembly elections in Gujarat, said Goel. “Even the Congress had done it countless times in the past. We are not an arrogant government as the Congress accuses us. It is the Congress that was arrogant. The Modi government is committed to parliamentary democracy,” said Goel. “The Congress is desperate as it is set to lose elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Hence, they are making such baseless allegations.”
Article 85 of the Constitution, which came into force in 1950 and deals with Parliament, states that the President can convene the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha to meet at a place and time that he decides in consultation with the Cabinet. But the time period between the sessions should not exceed six months. Article 85 states, “The President shall decide the time to summon each house of Parliament to meet at such a time and place as he thinks fit, but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.” The monsoon session this year, which began on July 17, concluded on August 11. So, technically, the government has time till February 10, 2018, to start the winter session.
In fact, many winter sessions in the past have went beyond Christmas. In 1976 and 1991, winter sessions began after Christmas. In 1976, when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister, the winter session began on January 5 and went till February 6.
The Parliament, since 1955, has been holding three sessions every year—budget, monsoon and winter. Every session is decided 10 to 15 days prior. In the US, the UK and some other developed countries, parliaments are in session all through the year, with a few recesses in between. If Parliament was in session throughout the year, it would help make the government accountable and enable detailed planning of policy-related work around the year.
CPI(M) MP Mohammed Salim told THE WEEK, “Such delaying tactics adopted by the government were not good for democracy. The BJP will accuse the Congress. The Congress will accuse the BJP. At the end of the day, Parliament should function according to constitutional principles. Even the monsoon session was shortened this year. I smell a conspiracy here.”