The Government and Opposition should engage constructively in truncated Parliament session

| Updated on September 13, 2020 Published on September 13, 2020

The desultory manner in which the upcoming Parliament session is being approached in the world’s largest democracy is in sharp contrast to the vibrancy of such proceedings almost everywhere else

The Monsoon Session of Parliament convenes belatedly on Monday morning in exceptionally challenging times, with India facing its worst economic crisis in recent history and the Covid-19 pandemic clocking the highest number of cases and deaths in the world per day. The much-curtailed session is set to debate and pass 17 of the pending 46 bills that have been listed for consideration and passage and 23 new bills listed for introduction, consideration and passage in barely 18 sittings between September 14 and October 1. The question hour has been suspended and the zero hour cut by half by the Government which is focussed on getting the 11 ordinances, including the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, pushed through Parliament. The Health Minister is to make a statement with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic and the steps taken by the Government while the Finance Minister will present the first batch of supplementary demands for grants for 2020-21. The Government is clear that the business of Parliament should be executed with minimum fuss.

If the Government comes across as a trifle minimalist in fulfilling its Parliamentary duties, the Opposition’s listlessness is equally apparent. The Congress, in its seemingly perpetual state of internal combustion, has snubbed a majority of its star performers in both the Houses — Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Shashi Tharoor — just days ahead of the Session. If that was not enough, the interim President of the Congress, Sonia Gandhi, has embarked on a journey abroad for medical reasons and her son, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, is to accompany her. So the principal opposition party will be headless during the course of this session. The rest, Trinamool Congress, Left, DMK et al will be so restricted by the logistics that only token presence of the Opposition is likely to be felt — although they have jointly moved statutory resolutions against all 11 ordinances listed by the Government. Most senior parliamentarians are likely to stay away from the Houses for fear of contracting the pandemic. Even so, the Opposition and the government should engage constructively — the Opposition should hold the Centre to account on its Budget estimates, and whether they need to be reconsidered in the context of Covid, and its handling of the pandemic.

The desultory manner in which the upcoming Parliament session is being approached in the world’s largest democracy is in sharp contrast to the vibrancy of such proceedings almost everywhere else. There have been intense discussions around public policy throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, France, Italy, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, where parliaments have held sessions in person with social distancing, or video conferencing or a hybrid model. India need not have insisted on physical presence of legislators. But having made the decision, it is now incumbent upon MPs to discuss, debate and find solutions to the present crisis with the urgency that it requires.

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Published on September 13, 2020
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