2nd half of Budget session may be cut short due to state polls
- An official said that both Houses could meet at 11 am from the second week following the vaccination of eligible MPs.
The month-long second half of Parliament’s Budget Session is likely to be shortened by two weeks, with government managers and some Opposition leaders requesting Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to curtail the proceedings in view of upcoming assembly elections, people aware of the matter said on Sunday, a day ahead of the resumption of the House.
While the first part of the Budget Session began on January 29 and concluded two days before schedule on February 13, the second leg is officially set to end on April 8. The session is set to coincide with the March-April elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry.
A Parliament official said that government managers as well as many opposition leaders have requested the Rajya Sabha chairman and Lok Sabha Speaker to cut short the session as leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress, Trinamool Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Left bloc, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and many regional outfits would be busy in election campaigning.
Another senior official said on condition of anonymity that the second half of the session, which starts on Monday, may run for just two weeks. “The elections are starting from March 27. Keeping the political considerations in mind, it looks like the session is likely to run for two weeks only,” the official added.
The remaining part of the Budget Session may also see the resumption of normal parliamentary schedule of simultaneous proceedings for both Houses from 11am, the official added. Currently, the two Houses sit in different shifts to ensure social distancing norms amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
An official said that both Houses could meet at 11 am from the second week following the vaccination of eligible MPs. “Since many MPs would be busy in campaign, we are not expecting a full house in this session,” the Rajya Sabha official said, asking not to be named.
A third official said: “Therefore, the current system of allotment of seats covering both Houses will be scrapped and MPs of one House can be accommodated in their own House. This will allow simultaneous running of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.”
The government’s top priority would be to get various demands for grants for the year 2021-22 passed along with the Finance Bill. It also has about 25 bills shortlisted for passage but those could be taken up later, too. Some of the bills listed by the government include the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (Amendment) Bill, National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development Bill, Electricity (Amendment) Bill, Crypto currency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill.
While some Opposition leaders have supported the idea of curtailing the Budget Session, the it has divided those within the Congress party. At Sunday’s meeting of the party’s strategy group, which is headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury supported the idea, saying that only Punjab MPs will be present for most of the session. He said he would be busy with the West Bengal elections, deputy leader Gaurav Gogoi will be in Assam for campaigning and groups of MPs from Kerala and Tamil Nadu will be in their respective regions, according to a person aware of the developments. He also pointed out that opposition parties such as the Trinamool Congress and DMK are also likely to be absent from Parliament, the person added.
However, the Congress’s Rajya Sabha leaders Jairam Ramesh and Anand Sharma said that the move to curtail the session would set a dangerous precedent. According to two leaders who attended the meeting but didn’t want to be named, the Rajya Sabha leaders felt that it undermined the Congress party’s position of asking for Parliament to run. When former Prime Minister and RS member Manmohan Singh agreed with them, Sonia Gandhi said that the Congress party will not ask for the session to be cut short, the leaders said.
“We will ask the government to make their position clear on the session and if other parties also agree, then we will accept,” said one of the leaders quoted above. “The Congress party will not ask for the session to be cut short.” The final word on the issue will become clear at the business advisory committee meeting. While Ramesh refused to comment, Chowdhury and Sharma did not respond.
The Congress has also decided to aggressively raise the issue of fuel price hikes in Parliament.
“I am bringing an adjournment motion on the issue,” said Kerala MP K Suresh.
“In the coming days, the party will speak up for the problems that this issue is creating for the common man,” he added. Suresh said that the other issues that are going to be raised by the Congress include the now 100-day-long agitation by farmers against three agri laws and a demand for better law-and-order for women and children. The House proceedings were washed out for four consecutive days in the first half of the session over the Opposition’s demand for a separate discussion on farm issues. To make up for the lost time, the House sat till midnight on several days.
“There is no reason why the parliamentary calendar should be impacted by state elections...A truncated session will either result in less time for debate on national and legislative issues, or such debates being pushed to the monsoon session...” Chakshu Roy, Head of Legislative and Civic Engagement, PRS Legislative Research.