New Delhi Parliament’s most extraordinary session will start on Monday, with a slew of health protocols in place amid a raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, and with several potential flashpoints between the government and the Opposition.
The Centre has listed 38 bills — including 11 ordinances — for passage in the curtailed session during which opposition parties have demanded a debate on the India-China border conflict, an economic slowdown that caused a GDP contraction of 23.9% in the quarter ended June, job losses, delay in Goods and Services Tax (GST) payments to the states, and management of the pandemic.
Amid severe restrictions put in place and a logistical overhaul in the functioning of both Houses of Parliament, the stage is also set for the first direct political confrontation between the National Democratic Alliance government and the opposition parties in six months, after the budget session ended abruptly on March 23 because of the spread of Covid-19.
The virus continues to pose a threat to the session. At least five lawmakers may have tested positive in the last two days during the pre-session screening using the reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, considered the most accurate for diagnosis of the coronavirus disease, and many senior MPs, cutting across political lines, have decided against attending the proceedings.
The session will be held in two shifts — Rajya Sabha in the morning and Lok Sabha in the afternoon — with members of both House spread across the two chambers and galleries. On the opening day, however, the Lok Sabha will be held in the morning shift, and the Rajya Sabha in the afternoon.
In recent months, several issues have rocked the country’s polity. The ongoing India-China border conflict, the economic slump, massive job losses and the plight of migrant workers who fled the cities for the countryside, and allegations of a pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bias in Facebook’s Indian management team, have triggered political protests and attacks on the government.
Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan will place a statement on the Covid-19 situation in Rajya Sabha, which may elect a deputy chairman on Monday. NDA’s Harivansh, who belongs to the Janata Dal (United), is pitted against opposition candidate Manoj Jha of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the election to the post. In light of this, the BJP has issued a whip in the Upper House.
Sparks may still fly on the first day of the session, which ends on October 1. The government will bring a motion in both Houses to approve its decision to scrap Question Hour and private members’ bills during the session. The move has already sparked protests by the Opposition that may spill over in both Houses as well.
The government will introduce the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, to replace related ordinances. The Congress, the Left, and some other parties, are vehemently opposed to the ordinances.
Major farmers’ groups have also vowed to resist the Narendra Modi government’s agenda to free up the country’s antiquated agriculture sector with liberalising ordinances, calling for coordinated protests on Monday, when the government will table them in Lok Sabha for passage as Acts.
Opposition parties, including the Congress, have lent support to the farmers’ groups, saying they planned to stall the ordinances in Parliament by attempting to have them sent to parliamentary select committees.
“There are no ifs and buts. We are 100% opposed to the three farm-related ordinances and the banking ordinance. Our chief ministers have written letters to the PM expressing their concern. We are absolutely clear that these ordinances are not in favour of Indian farmers,”the Congress chief whip for the Rajya Sabha, Jairam Ramesh, said on Sunday.
Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla held two meetings with leaders of different political parties on Sunday to lay the ground for the session. While the political leaders appreciated the elaborate preparations made for the session, Opposition members also placed before Naidu and BIrla their demands for a debate on key issues.
The Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha will take up a record number of 20 and 16 obituary references—including the ones on former President Pranab Mukherjee and former rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh before kickstarting their legislative agenda.
A heavy legislative agenda awaits the first day of the session. While the Lok Sabha is set to pass the National Commission for Homoeopathy Bill and The National Commission for Indian System of Medicine Bill without much discussion on Monday, a total of seven other bills will be introduced in the Lower House.
In the Rajya Sabha, four bills will be introduced and two — The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill and The Institute of Teaching and Research in Ayurveda Bill — will be passed.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi said the government was ready for a debate on all issues which will be decided in the business advisory committee meetings this week. When asked if the government is ready for a discussion on the military standoff between India and China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh sector, Joshi said it will be decided while keeping in mind national security and the country’s strategic interests.
Former parliamentary affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah said:“The authorities have taken humongous efforts to arrange this session which will be historic in many ways given the fact that Indian Parliament has dared to meet amid Covid. But it is up to the political parties to make it an effective one. Already, the scrapping of Question Hour has dampened the mood.”