The government has called a special session of Parliament from September 18 to 22. The announcement made on August 31 has piqued everyone’s interest. Why a special session of Parliament?
There has been a lot of speculation regarding what could be taken up during the five-day special session of Parliament. Amid the confusion, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pointing out that no agenda was listed for the special Parliament session.
The government on Wednesday released a “tentative list” for the session which would also see four bills being taken up and a discussion on the Parliament’s journey of 75 years. But the Opposition wasn’t placated. The Congress alleged the government was keeping “legislative grenades” up its sleeves to be unleashed at the last moment.
It is interesting to note that only once was a bill discussed at a special session of Parliament, and that too as recent as in 2017. This midnight session had to do with the historic GST rollout.
Typically, a few days before the commencement of a Parliamentary session, the government holds an all-party meeting to propose the agenda and reach an agreement on potential debate themes. Such an all-party meeting has been planned for September 17 and email invites have been sent out, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said on Wednesday.
Apart from the one in 2017 when the GST bill was taken up, only once was a special session convened to conduct a trust vote in the Lok Sabha. That was in 2008 and Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister.
Twice, special sessions have been convened to extend Presidential rules in states. But mostly, special sessions have been used for commemorating and celebrating milestones of national importance.
But what exactly is a special session of Parliament? How many such special sessions have been convened till now? And why is this special session being called?
WHAT IS A SPECIAL SESSION OF PARLIAMENT
The Constitution gives the government the power to convene a session of Parliament.
The decision to call a session is taken by the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs and the Members of Parliament (MPs) are summoned in the name of the President.
It is important to note that the Indian Constitution doesn’t mention the term “special session” of Parliament.
Even what is termed a special session by the government will be summoned as per provisions of Article 85(1), under which all sessions are held.
PARLIAMENT LACKS FIXED CALENDAR
The Indian Parliament still lacks a fixed session schedule.
A Lok Sabha committee proposed in 1955 that the Budget session be held from February 1 to May 7, the Monsoon session from July 15 to September 15, and the Winter session from November 5 (or the fourth day after Diwali, whichever is later) to December 22 but the calendar was never used.
According to the Constitution, there shouldn’t be a gap of more than six months between two Parliamentary sessions. This clause was modified from the Government of India Act of 1935, which gave the British governor general the power to convene sessions of the central legislature no more frequently than once every 12 months.
BR Ambedkar said the purpose was only to collect revenue, and the once-a-year meeting was designed to avoid scrutiny of the government by the legislature. The Constituent Assembly went ahead and shortened the time between two sessions to six months.
But why are special sessions of parliament called?
UPA TRUST VOTE AND GST ROLLOUT
The phrase “special session” is not specifically used in the Constitution, but it is commonly linked with sessions called by the administration to commemorate significant legislative or national events.
The presiding officers may limit proceedings during a special session, and procedures like question hour may be skipped.
It’s worth noting that Article 352, which deals with the Proclamation of Emergency, does specify a “special sitting of the House”.
There have been seven special sessions of Parliament that have been held till now.
Of the seven, three were to commemorate events of national importance and two were on President’s rule in Tamil Nadu and Nagaland (1977) and Haryana (1991).
Of the remaining two, one special session was convened to conduct a trust vote in 2008 when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister.
The trust vote was necessitated by the withdrawal of support to the government by four Left parties (with 60 MPs) over the Indo-US nuclear deal. The UPA government survived, mustering the support of the Samajwadi Party and getting 275 votes in its favour, while 256 MPs voted against it.
The last special session, in 2017, was also the only such one held by the Narendra Modi government.
On June 30, 2017, the NDA government held a special session of Parliament in the Central Hall to roll out the Goods and Services Tax (GST), a huge indirect tax reform.
Around 600 people, including MPs, chief ministers and GST Council members, attended the event.
The special session that has been planned from September 18 to 22 will be the second by the Modi government but first since being re-elected.
But why is this special session being held?
WHY SPECIAL SESSION IS BEING CONVENED?
The government on Wednesday released a ‘tentative list’ of the agenda for Parliament’s special session, which includes two bills to be taken up in the Lok Sabha and two others in the Rajya Sabha. Apart from formal parliamentary business, a discussion will be held on the subject ‘Parliamentary Journey of 75 years.
The Congress has raised doubts that the session was being convened just for such legislative business that could have waited till the winter session.
“The agenda as published at the moment, is much ado about nothing – all this could have waited till the Winter session in November. I am sure the legislative grenades are being kept up their sleeves to be unleashed at the last moment as usual. Parde ke peeche kuch aur hai!” said Jairam Ramesh, Congress general secretary.
According to reports, a section of BJP leaders believe that the government is holding the September session as the winter session, which takes place in November-December, could get delayed because of the assembly election in five states.
The session will begin in the old Parliament building and shift to the new one the next day, according to officials. It will coincide with Ganesh Chaturthi on September 19, considered auspicious to make new beginnings.