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The monsoon session

A view of the Parliament House in New Delhi. File   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Speaking in Parliament while seated mask-muffled behind glass shields did not suit the panache of MPs. Some of them stood up by force of habit and others lowered the guard to have a better voice. The dam ultimately burst when a member came out spewing fire and brimstone against the alleged linking of Bollywood with drug trafficking by a member of the other House, in clear violation of parliamentary etiquette prescribed in the Handbook for Members.

The members were allowed to stand only while taking oath of induction, when some of them developed stage fright and left without signing the Roll of Members kept at the podium. Sadly missing was the pretty ritual of going up the dais to shake the presiding officer’s hand, circumambulate the chair to emerge from the other side and greet the members of the House with a smile of achievement. Also missing was the fanfare and hurly burly witnessed at the start of a Parliament sitting.

The Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha sittings were held in 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3 p.m.-7 p.m. shifts. In order to observe physical distancing norms, the members were made to sit at two ends of each bench, on three locations.

The media personnel covering parliament proceedings unfortunately missed their breaking-news interactions alongside breakfast or high tea with the members, particularly in the Central Hall. They are not allowed to tail politicians to ask uncomfortable questions. Since some of the MPs were seated next to the media gallery, it considerably cramped the habitual press bonhomie.

Dispensing with the extremely popular question hour left the Opposition hugely disappointed. The equally well-liked ‘zero hour’, when the members can speak outside the box, was curtailed by half. Digital communication, on the other hand, got a quantum jump. The printed lists of questions and answers were made available to the members only on the websites. Other parliamentary papers too were circulated through the electronic medium only. Advisory issued to members above the age of 65 to avoid attending the session, however, did not deter some of the veterans.

At least 30 MPs had tested COVID-19 positive before the session commenced. H. Vasanthakumar, Balli Durga Prasad Rao and Minister of State for Railways Suresh Angadi died of coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

The session was scheduled to be held from September 14 to October 1 for 18 days without a break, but had to be cut short, on account of the pandemic, by eight days and ended on September 23.

The passage of certain Bills in the Rajya Sabha witnessed re-emergence of the old normal when papers were converted into graffiti, mikes were pulled out and the dance of democracy was staged on the Table of the House, leading to suspension of eight Opposition members for a week. An unprecedented and unconstitutional no-confidence motion against the newly elected Deputy Chairman was countered by a privilege motion against the Opposition.

Thanks to the Opposition boycott, the Rajya Sabha passed 15 Bills over two days, September 22 and 23. Taken together, the two Houses of Parliament passed 25 Bills in the course of 10 days; 11 of these Bills related to replacing 11 ordinances with Acts of Parliament. A record of sorts, but not a great

tribute to the Indian legislature. The power of the President of India, the head of the executive, to promulgate ordinances is unique among democracies based on the Westminster model and has been copied from the colonial pre-Independence Government of India Act, 1935.

(The author is a former Secretary-General of the Rajya Sabha)

vkagnihotri25@gmail.com

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 9:49:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-monsoon-session/article32759800.ece

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