What the monsoon session can achieve - Hindustan Times
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What the monsoon session can achieve

Jul 19, 2023 10:36 PM IST

The upcoming session will likely be stormy. But beyond the rows, it will hold cues on Opposition unity, parliamentary strategy and the run-up to 2024

The monsoon session of Parliament that starts on July 20 will be stormy. The government and Opposition are both girding up for the upcoming general elections. Parties are likely to use the session to send political signals. Expect fireworks when the bill to replace a controversial ordinance over control of Delhi’s bureaucracy is tabled.

The monsoon session might mark the first time that the custodians of Indian democracy – our MPs – transact the nation’s business from their new home next door.(ANI/PIB) PREMIUM
The monsoon session might mark the first time that the custodians of Indian democracy – our MPs – transact the nation’s business from their new home next door.(ANI/PIB)

Four things merit note. The first is the legislative agenda. The government intends to get approval on eight pending bills. These relate to matters such as multi-state cooperatives, decriminalisation of offences, pre-litigation mediation, and amendments to the forest and biological diversity laws. Parliamentary committees have scrutinised these laws. The government also wants the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to pass 21 new pieces of legislation. These include the personal data protection bill, two bills to replace colonial laws relating to postal services and registration of press and periodicals, and legislation regulating medicines, medical devices and cosmetics. These are some of the declared items of business. But also look out for proposals not mentioned in the list. For example, on August 5, 2019, the government introduced the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in Rajya Sabha. It was not in the government’s business published at the beginning of the session.

Recent legislative data shows Parliament passed critical laws in sessions leading to the general election. For example, in the 2018 monsoon session, the House passed a law to confiscate the properties of economic offenders who absconded from the country. And in the 2013 monsoon session, Parliament made food and nutritional security a legal right under the National Food Security Act.

One proposal in the news is the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). The government pitched for UCC before the Supreme Court earlier this year, saying citizens belonging to different religions and denominations following different property and matrimonial laws was an affront to national unity. The Law Commission of India is deliberating on the issue, and so is a parliamentary committee. And last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also strongly backed a common code. Pundits will be on the lookout for any hints on this issue – such as the private member’s bill that was introduced on the subject in the 2022 winter session.

The second thing will be the stand of political parties on national issues. Members of Parliament (MPs) decide on most subjects by voting, largely through a voice vote that does not make clear whether individual members supported or opposed a decision. Both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha also have an electronic voting machine. Any MP can ask for a vote to be recorded using this method, which would register where each MP stood on an issue. For example, on the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019, electronic voting took place, and the records of the Lok Sabha show the names of 351 MPs who voted in favour, 72 who opposed it, and one who abstained. Such recorded voting could make the stand of political parties transparent on national issues. It would also answer questions about Opposition unity and the government’s strength on hot-button political issues such as the Delhi ordinance.

The Opposition’s strategy will be the third thing to watch. The last few sessions have been jammed by a deadlock between the Opposition, complaining about the government’s unwillingness to engage on national issues and disrupting proceedings, and the treasury benches, responding in kind. But in the 2018 monsoon session, the Telugu Desam Party took a different approach. Its member Kesineni Srinivas moved a no-confidence motion that led to an intense 12-hour debate in the Lok Sabha and ended with the PM replying to the Opposition’s charges. It was the same debate in which then Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, after his speech, hugged the PM. This no-confidence motion was a rare moment in our parliamentary history where a regional political party forced a debate in Lok Sabha that required the PM’s response. Opposition parties have traditionally been reluctant to use parliamentary mechanisms such as no-confidence motions. Before 2018, the last time there was a no-confidence motion in Parliament was in the 2003 monsoon session, when Sonia Gandhi challenged then-PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government. But it will be interesting to see whether the Opposition changes its strategy and use novel methods to get the government to respond on the floor of Parliament, or if the usual volley of disruptions dominates.

The five-year term of the current Lok Sabha will end next year, but it still doesn’t have a constitutionally mandated deputy speaker. This situation is unprecedented in the history of our parliamentary functioning. This will be the final thing to watch – whether the election for this post takes place in this session. The date for the election has to be decided by the Speaker. If the election does take place, will the government propose a name from its own ranks or an ally, or allow the Opposition to take charge?

The monsoon session is scheduled for 17 days, though nine previous sessions have been curtailed for a bouquet of reasons. It is important not only because it might be the penultimate full session before the 2024 elections, but also because, as some reports suggest, it might mark the first time that the custodians of Indian democracy – our MPs – transact the nation’s business from their new home next door. If we do see legislative proceedings in democracy’s new abode, the nation would hope that debate and deliberations don’t get drowned out by disruptions.

Chakshu Roy is the head of legislative and civic engagement, PRS Legislative Research. The views expressed are personal

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