The winter session of Parliament is to start on December 15 and end on January 5, senior government sources said on Wednesday. The Opposition said the delayed winter session was yet another example of the Narendra Modi government’s disregard for parliamentary conventions. Other examples, Opposition members pointed out, were Narendra Modi government shortening the duration of the sessions, advancing the Budget session by a month and not circulating parliamentary papers among members well in advance, which left Opposition members with little time to prepare for discussions on proposed Bills. However, constitutional experts said there was no constitutional infirmity in the government of the day calling two sessions within a gap of less than a month, which is likely to be the case this time. Former Lok Sabha secretary general PDT Achary said the only constitutional provision regarding holding of sessions was that the gap between two sessions is not more than six months. Home Minister Rajnath Singh-headed Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs (CCPA) met on Wednesday to discuss the dates. The Centre will announce the dates officially after promulgating two ordinances placed before the union cabinet on Wednesday. An ordinance cannot be issued once the dates of the session are announced. Briefing reporters after the cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the winter session schedule will not overlap with the assembly elections. The second phase of polling in Gujarat is scheduled for December 14. He said the winter session would be a “regular session”. He said in a democracy political parties addressed the people directly when elections are on. Jaitley also said normally elections and Parliament sessions don’t overlap. It is a claim disputed by Opposition parties, who have pointed out several instances of sessions and polls having taken place simultaneously, including earlier this year when five states, including Uttar Pradesh, went to the polls in the midst of the Budget session. Former Lok Sabha secretary general Achary told this paper that there have been occasions in the past when a fresh session has been convened within a month of the prorogation, or the end, of the preceding session. The Constitution says there shall not be a gap of more than six months between two sessions, he said. “There is no constitutional infirmity in this. A Parliament session is primarily to transact government business, not private business. Therefore, the privilege of summoning a session belongs to the government,” Achary said. However, Trinamool Congress member Derek O’Brien said the government delaying the session showed the “cavalier” disregard of the Modi government for parliamentary conventions.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury said the government was “incapacitating” the mechanisms of India's parliamentary democracy. “The government is showing contempt for Parliament,” Yechury said. Jaitley, in a dig at the Congress, said the Gujarat polls were important for the BJP and it would be busy campaigning there, but he was not sure whether its opponents would be busy in the campaigning or not. The Finance Minister said if the winter session spilled over to January, it was not considered a fresh session. The president addressed the joint sitting of a first session of a calendar year, the minister said. The Budget session will be considered the first session of the year. According to sources, the winter session will have December 25 and 26 as holidays on account of Christmas, while January 1, the new year’s day, will also be a holiday. The session is set to have 15 sittings. Government sources said while the winter session would spill over to the next year, it will not impact the dates of the Budget session. The Budget session is likely to start by January end. The Budget session in 2017 had begun on January 31, and the presentation of the Union Budget was advanced by a month to be presented on February 1. The Congress and other Opposition parties have been questioning the government for delaying the winter session. They have accused the government of running away from facing questions on demonetisation, slowdown of the economy, the rollout of a “flawed” goods and services tax (GST) and alleged irregularities in the purchase of the Rafale fighter jet. Achary said it was true that Parliament sessions have gradually shortened. He said by convention the monsoon and winter sessions of Parliament sat for six weeks until the 1980s. “But subsequently respective governments have been reducing duration of the session,” he said. Similarly, sessions of state assemblies have in most cases been reduced to a couple of days. "The trend to reduce the number of sittings is not a good thing as lots of issues need to be discussed," Achary said. On an average, Parliament sits for 68 to 70 days a year but several members have demanded a rule that Parliament should sit for a minimum of 100 days. O’Brien said that until the 1950s and 60s, Parliament sat for 120 days a year, and pointed to the practice in some of the western democracies where dates for parliamentary sessions is announced in the beginning of the year.