CITING a surge in Covid-19 cases, the Union government has decided not to hold the Winter Session of Parliament. A session, even a curtailed one, would have provided the lawmakers a much-needed platform to discuss pressing issues: the contentious farm laws and the prolonged agitation by the farmers who are demanding their repeal; the seven-month-old border standoff with China that is nowhere near resolution; and the action plan for the rollout of the Covid vaccine. The argument for doing away with the session does not hold water as the daily coronavirus caseload of the country in general and Delhi in particular has come down significantly. It’s not that the government has no experience of conducting parliamentary proceedings during a raging pandemic. The Monsoon Session was held in September, a devastating month which alone witnessed over 26 lakh infections nationwide, accounting for one-fourth of the total cases so far, and more than 33,000 deaths. Amid the challenging conditions, Covid protocols had been strictly enforced and the session was hailed as one of the most productive ever. The government needs to explain why similar measures can’t be implemented in December, when the overall situation is far better.
The irony is not lost on anyone: during the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the new Parliament building last week, PM Narendra Modi had underlined the importance of dialogue and hailed Indian democracy for its vibrancy. Holding the House sitting at this time would have affirmed the government’s intent to encourage deliberations on thorny matters and look for solutions through consensus. However, it now seems that the ruling party is shying away from a debate with the Opposition. Such evasiveness does not augur well for a democratic set-up.
The grim portents were visible during the Monsoon Session, when the government had rammed legislations through both Houses amid walkouts and boycotts by Opposition parties. The reluctance to take everybody on board is again evident now. And it doesn’t really matter whether Parliament operates from an old building or a new one, or whether it is circular or triangular in shape. What matters is to create space for a healthy dialogue in the ‘temple of democracy’.