Parliamentary Processes: How the Opposition Did Not Stall the Monsoon Session

Shri Ravindra Garimella
Secretary, Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha
Former Joint Secretary (Legislation), Lok Sabha Secretariat

In a democratic polity, elected representatives of people personify the collective voice, will, and thought and aspirations of the people whom they represent in Parliament or State Legislatures. Members as representatives of people bring up matters of public interest concerning them on the floor of the House. The Indian Parliament has been on the forefront for achieving this objective. It is not only a forum for enacting laws (legislating is one of its functions), but its critical importance is also that it provides a very effective debating forum.

In modern times, Parliaments all over the world have been assuming added responsibilities in response to the growing hopes and aspirations of the people. They are devoting more and more time in the deliberation of issues pertaining to redressal of grievances of the people.

A number of parliamentary devices are available to the members of the Indian Parliament too, under the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business, as well as by convention, to enable them to raise issues, elicit information, and obtain decisions of the government on a variety of matters affecting the public. These devices afford ample opportunities to the members not only to review the working of the executive but also to constructively criticize the policies, programmes, and actions of the government. These devices are also very useful to the members in ventilating public grievances.

Apart from questions, several parliamentary devices are available in Rules of Procedure in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to members for raising urgent matters of public importance requiring immediate attention of the government. From Rules point of view, parliamentary devices can as well be termed as procedural devices.

Only when these procedural devices available under the Rules of Procedures of both Houses of Parliament are able to be put to use gainfully will the Members of Parliament really be able to perform their parliamentary duties and meet their obligations to their constituents. But for this, members need to be wholly and fully oriented in parliamentary procedure.

Different procedural devices have different timelines for tabling. Each procedural device has its importance. Under which Rule a particular matter can most optimally be raised, in other words which procedural device can be taken recourse to, would depend upon the urgency, criticality, and nature of the matter sought to be raised (see Appendix for a comprehensive and clear “Snapshot of Procedural Devices under Rules of Procedure”).

The Opposition Was Keen For Discussions Throughout

The Opposition parties made concerted efforts in both Houses of Parliament during this year’s Monsoon Session (July-August 2021). I wish to dispel here the misconception in some quarters that the session was in a way washed away due to the Opposition parties.

On the contrary, well before the session, the Indian National Congress (INC) meticulously listed and identified topical issues to be raised, such as, rise in the prices of petrol and diesel, and other essential commodities, inflation, Covid-19 mismanagement by government during the second wave, the Rafale issue, the ongoing farmers agitation, and unemployment, to name a few.

It was also worked out under what procedural device the matters needed to be raised, and accordingly, notices were given.

The other Opposition parties too worked out a similar strategy. It was indeed a fortuitous development that on the eve of the monsoon session, that is, 18 July, 2021, immediately after the conclusion of the all-party leaders’ meeting, a meeting of leaders of all Opposition parties from both Houses of Parliament was held, which was chaired by Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha. In the meeting there were focused deliberations on issues to be raised, the strategy vis-a-vis the modus operandi, and to achieve common approach in both Houses of Parliament. Such a meeting was the first of its kind. This convergence among INC and other Opposition parties continued all through the session, with daily morning meetings in the chamber of Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha.

Joint Statement by Opposition parties to say the monsoon session of the Parliament was deliberately derailed by the government

The initiative which came from INC leadership and Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha, got a phenomenal response from leaders of other Opposition parties. All through, there was committed determination by INC and other Opposition parties to raise topical issues on the floor of both Houses of Parliament through various procedural devices and have structured discussions, and have the government’s response thereto.

It would be significant to note here that on 19 July and 20 July, 2021, news of the Pegasus snooping scandal flooded the media. That was a major turning point. INC and other Opposition parties felt that this was a very serious issue, adversely impinging upon the privacy and fundamental right of liberty of every citizen of the country, and that too in the knowledge of government. It was, therefore, thought to be imperative to first discuss this matter in the House and then seek clarification and accountability from the government on the floor of the House.

This desired discussion was never admitted. That was the reason for the deadlock. The Opposition was ready for discussions on all topical issues all through the session.

It is a matter of fact that on the very second day of the monsoon session, that is, 20 July, 2021, when a Short Duration Discussion on Covid-19 was slated in Rajya Sabha, the Opposition rose to the occasion and participated in the discussion, which was initiated by Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha. Further, despite the deadlock, the INC and the entire Opposition fully participated during the discussion on Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021 (enacted as Constitution 105th Amendment) regarding state governments’ power to prepare their own state OBC lists.

Thus, the foregoing account counters the perception that the Opposition was responsible for the session wash out; in fact, right from the beginning, the Opposition desired and was prepared for discussions in the Parliament.

(Ravindra Garimella is an author and consultant on Parliamentary and legislative matters. He has also been a visiting Fellow at the University of Warwick and University of Nottingham, UK. He authored the book, "Parliament of India: Diverse Dimensions".)

AIPC Inspired

Parliamentary Processes: How the Opposition Did Not Stall the Monsoon Session
Chhattisgarh’s Nyay: Building from the Ground Up
The State of Indian Economy: A Hard Look