At Sunday’s customary all-party meeting on the eve of a parliamentary session, several participants including the Opposition and allies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spoke in chorus for the women’s reservation Bill. They urged the government to ensure its passage in the five-day special session whose highlight will be the shifting of proceedings to the new Parliament building on September 19 — the day of the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi this year.
According to sources, the government could have Parliament take up eight Bills during the session, including the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill and another that seeks to overturn the effect of a Supreme Court verdict on the appointment of the chief election commissioner (CEC) and election commissioners (ECs). The women’s reservation bill, which seeks to reserve a third of Lok Sabha and legislative assembly seats for women, was not on the list of parliamentary business that the government released on Wednesday.
At the all-party meeting, attended by 51 MPs of 34 political parties, the Opposition INDIA bloc, and BJP allies such as the Ajit Pawar faction of the Nationalist Congress Party asked the government to bring the women’s reservation Bill during the session that begins on Monday. Even parties that have earlier opposed the Bill demanding “reservation within reservation” — such as the Bahujan Samaj Party, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal — lent their support to the demand at Sunday’s meeting.
The Opposition also demanded that the government make public the “full agenda” of the special session. At the meeting, Opposition members such as Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien said the government was being “secretive”. They pointed to the caveat in the government’s Parliament bulletin, released on Wednesday, which said the schedule should “not be taken as exhaustive”.
Opposition MPs demanded that the government incorporate the Question Hour and Zero Hour if it was a routine session or else keep one day aside for the two Houses to discuss issues of public concern. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury reiterated the nine points that the Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi flagged in her letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appealing to him that the special session should discuss Chinese incursions into India’s territory, the ethnic strife in Manipur, a joint parliamentary probe on alleged irregularities by the Adani group, the caste census and farm distress, among others. O’Brien said Parliament should discuss price rise, unemployment, the state of the economy and issues related to outstanding dues of the states. He said that already a third of his party’s Lok Sabha MPs were women, but Parliament should reserve one-third seats for women.
Earlier in the day, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar unfurled the national flag at the Gaja Dwar of the new Parliament building with Speaker Om Birla by his side. The two Houses will take up a discussion on “Parliamentary journey of 75 years” on Monday. On Tuesday, the proceedings will shift to the new Parliament building at 11.30 am, but only after a photo session of all the MPs in the morning, followed by a “function” at 11 am in the Central Hall of the old Parliament.
A Left MP at the meeting reminded government representatives and Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Piyush Goyal and Pralhad Joshi that the Parliament belonged to all religions. The MP said he believed the “function” at the Central Hall could be a religious ceremony since the shift would occur on the day of Ganesh Chaturthi. MPs have also questioned the timing of the photo shoot, which is usually reserved for either the winter or the Budget session, the last and the first sessions of a year respectively.
Opposition INDIA bloc MPs also urged the government not to bring the Bill to overturn the Supreme Court order on the committee to select the CEC and ECs terming it anti-democratic. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2019 and a parliamentary standing committee submitted a report on it on January 29, 2021, recommending at least one care home for senior citizens in each district of the country.