We are hours away from the special session of Parliament, which will begin today and run for the next five days, until 22 September. The session, called by the Centre, has created much buzz concerning the agenda and the purpose of the sitting.
While the government has listed a discussion on the 75-year journey of the Indian Parliament – since the first time it met in December 1946 – and passage of other bills, the Opposition suspects that the Modi sarkar will throw a surprise, with Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury saying, “Only the government knows what its intention is. It may surprise everyone with some new agenda.”
Incidentally, this is only the second special session of Parliament during the Modi government’s tenure. The last one was held in June 2017 at midnight to mark the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax in a largely ceremonial session that had no other legislative business.
Can the Centre keep agenda of special Parliament session a secret?
Special session of Parliament to begin on Monday: What’s in store?
From the legislative business to changing of venue – the session will shift to the new Parliament building on Tuesday – here’s everything that we know of the special session and what’s on the agenda.
All about business
Hours before the commencement of the special session, the government convened an all-party meet, informing the MPs of the agenda. It has been revealed that on Monday, the first day of the session, there will be a discussion on the “Parliamentary Journey of 75 years starting from Samvidhan Sabha. This will include an analysis of Achievements, Experiences, Memories and Learnings.”
Reports state that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the first speaker in the Lok Sabha on the topic while Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal will be the first in the Rajya Sabha.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi in the all-party meet convened on Sunday added that on Tuesday, 19 September, there will be a photo session in the old Parliament House at 9.30 am followed by a function in Central Hall at 11 am. After this, the MPs will enter the new Parliament building, which had previously been inaugurated by PM Modi in May.
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The function at Central Hall is to “commemorate the rich legacy of the Parliament of India and resolve to make Bharat a developed nation by 2047.”
Joshi told the MPs at the all-party meet, “The Parliament session will be held in the new Parliament House on 19 September and regular parliamentary work will begin from 20 September.”
When it comes to legislative business, the government has listed as many as eight bills for consideration and passage during the session. The most contentious of the legislations to be considered is the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023.
This legislation seeks to change the method of appointment and conditions of service of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners. It seeks to replace the Chief Justice of India with a Cabinet minister in the panel for selection of the chief election commissioner and election commissioners, in a move that will allow the government to have more control in the appointment of members of the poll panel.
The bill also said that salary, allowances and other service conditions of the CEC and ECs will be the same as that of the Cabinet Secretary, a change from their current parity with a Supreme Court judge. Critics have said it amount to diluting the authority of the poll watchdog.
At the all-party meet, several Opposition leaders criticised the bill, which had been introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 10 August, calling it “anti-Constitution” and “anti-democratic”. Owing to this, sources were quoted as telling news agency PTI that there is a rethink in the government on whether to take up the bill for discussion and passage in the special session.
Apart from this, there’s also other bills to be taken up – the Advocates (Amendment) Bill, 2023; the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023; the Post Office Bill, 2023.
During the all-party meeting, floor leaders were informed that an additional bill concerning the well-being of senior citizens and three bills related to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes order have been included in the agenda.
However, there’s been no mention of the ‘One Nation, One Election’ bill from the list, or for that matter any discussion on the same during the all-party meet. Earlier, there had been a lot of conjecture that the Centre had called for the session to pass the ‘One Nation, One Election’ legislation – a move that has been backed by the PM in the past.
There has also been no mention of the Women’s Reservation Bill, despite rumours swirling that it could be discussed during the special session. In fact, several MPs across parties made a strong pitch for the passage of the women’s reservation bill at the all-party meet on Sunday.
BJP ally and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Praful Patel joined the Congress and its allies besides unaligned parties like the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, Telugu Desam Party and the Biju Janata Dal to urge the government to script history on the momentous occasion of Parliament’s shift to the new building.
Special session, new building
Apart from the discussion on the 75 years of Parliament, the special session will also see a shifting to new premises – the new Parliament building. Earlier, in May, PM Modi had inaugurated the premises in a grand ceremony.
Preparing for this shift, Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar on Sunday hoisted the national flag at the new Parliament building. He was joined by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla as the flag was hoisted atop the “Gaja Dwar” of the new Parliament building.
In the run-up to the shift, there has been a buzz at the new Parliament building and many changes have taken place. The parliamentary staff at the new building will don new uniforms, which have a floral motif. This design has kicked up a row, with the Congress calling it a “cheap” tactic to promote the ruling party’s poll symbol – the lotus flower.
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There’s also reports that prior to the inauguration of the new building, a pooja (religious ceremony) is expected to be conducted on Ganesh Chaturthi.
A surprise in the works
Many Opposition and, some even within the BJP, are somewhat wary of the agenda of the special session. This is because the bulletin released earlier listing the agenda of the session was said to be ‘tentative’ and ‘not to be taken as exhaustive’.
Earlier, Congress’ Jairam Ramesh had said that the government could have ‘legislative grenades’ up its sleeve. “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!” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien. “There is a sinister line in the Parliament bulletin which says the ‘statement not to be taken as exhaustive’. This means the government can bring more bills. Why are they not taking Parliament into confidence. There is still no clarity,” TMC leader Derek O’Brien said.
There’s also an argument over the Zero Hour; there will be no Zero Hour during the five days of the special session – a move slammed by the Opposition. Zero Hour has only been dropped on a handful of occasions under extreme circumstances, including during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Emergency era, and the 1962 Indo-China war.
Some others within the Opposition camp has also called the special session a diversionary tactic. Earlier Congress’ Sonia Gandhi had written to PM Modi, listing nine issues – including the violence in Manipur and wrestlers’ protest – for discussion in the special session.
It is unclear what will actually happen during the special session, but one can expect fireworks and the Centre clashing with the Opposition.
With inputs from agencies