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HT EDIT-Why the winter session matters

December 16, 2020 05:51 AM

Why the winter session matters
Covid-19 cannot be a reason to halt the work of democratic institutions, especially Parliament
The pandemic has caused enormous disruption to lives and livelihoods, but among its other casualties has been the functioning of India’s most important democratic institution — the Parliament. This year will see no winter session, and the reason being offered is Covid-19. It is indeed true that holding the monsoon session was a difficult exercise, requiring an overhaul of logistics and seating arrangements. Despite precautions, dozens of parliamentarians and many more Parliament officials got infected. There is no debate on the fact that the pandemic is still here, caution is essential, and the health of India’s political leadership is important.

But to suggest that this means Parliament itself cannot meet is disingenuous. The budget session this year was —rightly — prorogued earlier than scheduled because the pandemic had just hit India, a lockdown was in offing, and little was known about the disease. The monsoon session itself was truncated. Key legislations — including the farm bills, the opposition to which has moved to the sadak, streets, from the sadan, house, where it was not adequately discussed — were pushed through with the Opposition not getting the space and time to raise issues. And now India will only see Parliament meet for the budget session in 2021, where the focus will, understandably, be on the budget itself.

But the need for elected representatives to meet in the sovereign house could not be greater. A farm movement has disrupted lives across north India; the management of the pandemic has been inconsistent with a varied track record across states; a framework for vaccine distribution is in the works; Centre-state relations remain fragile; the security situation is worrying with China continuing its aggression in Ladakh; and the economy, while recovering, is still not out of the woods. All of this merits open discussion and debate where the government offers its point of view and the Opposition critiques its performance and offers constructive suggestions. The fact that government is functioning with offices returning to a degree of normalcy, events are being held with leaders in attendance, a full election was fought in Bihar and bypolls were held across states shows that despite the pandemic, the Indian State has not gone dormant. Neither should Parliament. To show their commitment to citizens in these times of distress, India’s parliamentarians owe it to the country to get to work

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