Despite the unprecedented embarrassment the Modi government recently faced in the Rajya Sabha, it continues to seek the circumvention of parliamentary procedures. It moved to withdraw three crucial Bills from the Upper House. These related to replacing the ordinances it had promulgated on vital issues through amendments to the original Bills. In order to introduce new Bills in correspondence with the ordinances, it sought the withdrawal of the original Bills from the Rajya Sabha (where the BJP/NDA does not have a majority) in order to make way for the amended Bills to be introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha (where it has a majority) and then bring them to the Rajya Sabha. The Rajya Sabha defeated this game plan, forcing them ‘to defer the Bills’. Parliament can legislate the Bills only by both the Houses and not by any one House. While the Rajya Sabha is still considering the old Bills, can the Lok Sabha legislate on a new Bill on the same matter?
The Modi government is continuously threatening that it shall call a joint session of Parliament and have these Bills passed. A joint sitting of the two Houses, which the Constitution provides for decision making, is different from a joint session, like the annual sessions where the President of India delivers his/her speech, or a joint session is convened to hear a foreign head of the state. This cannot take any legislative decisions and make laws. The possibility of convening a joint sitting is spelt out in Article 108, which states: “(1) If after a Bill has been passed by one House and transmitted to the other House, (a) the Bill is rejected by the other House; or, (b) the Houses have finally disagreed as to the amendments to be made in the Bill; or, (c) more than six months elapse from the date of the reception of the Bill by the other House without the Bill being passed by it the President may, unless the Bill has lapsed by reason of a dissolution of the House of the People, notify to the Houses by message if they are sitting or by public notification if they are not sitting, his intention to summon them to meet in a joint sitting for the purpose of deliberating and voting on the Bill: Provided that nothing in this clause shall apply to a Money Bill”. The Constitution, therefore, is very clear. Unless unambiguously one House approves a piece of legislation and the other House rejects it, no joint session can be convened.
In a similar effort, the Modi government is seeking to undo major provisions of the land acquisition law, which was introduced by the UPA government and passed by Parliament after many years of struggle, to protect the interests of our farmers whose land is going to be acquired and, importantly, to provide compensation and rehabilitation to those who are not land owners but whose livelihood entirely depends on agricultural activity on the land that has been acquired. A major section of such people are agricultural labourers who will be dispossessed if such lands are acquired and agricultural activities cease.
The Modi government seeks to negate some of such safeguards, the necessity of which the Left parties impressed upon the UPA government through struggle both in and outside Parliament. Though such safeguards were halting in their nature, they still represented some guarantee of protection. Now the Modi government, through an amended Bill moved in the Lok Sabha, abolishes many, if not all, such safeguards and protections. Among many such amendments, to give an illustration of the brazen manner in which the government is promoting private profit maximisation, is the amendment to allow land acquisition for private hospitals and private educational institutions. They are proposed to be exempted from the legal obligation to get the consent of the farmers whose land is being acquired. The distinction between private and public sector projects is sought to be abolished.
Similarly, the provision for a ‘social impact assessment’ in the original Bill is sought to be negated. This provided the process for an impartial assessment of how much land is actually required for the project, how many families are going to be affected, whether there is any alternative land available, resulting in less people being displaced, etc. Clearly, this is designed to permit private companies to take over much more land than required for the project in order to allow them to rake in windfall profits through speculative real-estate activities. The limit on the time that acquired land can be held by a corporate entity (i.e. five years under the existing law, after which if the project does not materialise, the land has to be returned) has been removed in this amended legislation. Also, the acquisition of multi-crop land is now being permitted, something which was restricted in the original Bill.
Clearly, from the very beginning of this budget session, the Modi government had announced loud and clear that its policy direction is brazenly aimed at advancing the interests of international finance capital and domestic companies at the expense of major sections of our people. Its first full budget’s direction confirms this. It has given a bonanza to the rich while sharply reducing allocations for major social sectors and cutting subsidies for the poor. Worse, at midnight on budget day, the prices of diesel and petrol were raised by over `3 a litre.
The Modi government will seek to use its ‘tyranny of majority’ in the Lok Sabha to have such legislation passed even without permitting the scope for meaningful discussions and deliberations. This is the manner in which parliamentary procedures are sought to be circumvented.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal