What forced the Centre to cancel the Winter Session of Parliament this year?

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It’s now officially confirmed that there will be no Winter Session of Parliament this year. The reason is for all to see — the all-pervasive Covid-19. Although India continues to report a steady trend of declining active cases, as of now, 1, 43, 704 persons have died due to coronavirus.  ‘No Winter Session’ also means that the next session of Parliament will be the Budget Session in January. The announcement came after the Centre informed Congress leader in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury that the government was willing to hold the next session of Parliament at the earliest and it would be appropriate to have Budget Session in January. As per the Indian Constitution, there should not be a gap of more than six months between two parliament sessions. As the last session — the Monsoon Session — was held in September, the government is not compelled to call another session till February. However, as per the tentative schedule drawn up, the Budget session of Parliament will convene on January 28, 2021, with President Ram Nath Kovind addressing the joint session followed by the Economic Survey and the Union Budget will be presented on February 1, 2021. Last year the Budget session began on January 31. 

Chowdhury had written to Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla, urging him to convene a short Winter Session to discuss issues such as farmers’ protest. He had stressed on the need to amend the laws, which he said were rammed through by the BJP majority in parliament. But a number of senior Central ministers told that it would be “very unwise” to hold the session amidst Covid-19. Leaders from across party lines were also of the view that it would be better to cancel the session that put their health at risk. In a letter to Chowdhury, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi has said in response that all the political parties favoured scrapping of the session to avoid any Covid-19 spread and, instead, jumping, straight to Budget Session in January. But Congress leaders were in favour of a session to discuss controversial new farm laws — the core of farmer protests on highways near Delhi.

“Winter months are very crucial for managing the pandemic because of recent spurt in cases during this period, particularly in Delhi,” Joshi wrote to the Congress MP. “At present, we are in the middle of December and a Covid vaccine is expected very soon. In this regard, I have informally contacted floor leaders of various political parties and they have expressed their concerns about the ongoing pandemic and opined of doing away with Winter Session. The government is willing to have the next session of Parliament at the earliest. It would be appropriate to have the Budget Session, 2021 in January, keeping in mind the unprecedented circumstances created by Covid-19 pandemic (sic),” Joshi’s letter to Chaudhary.

Earlier, the delayed Monsoon Session, held in September, was adjourned eight days before the scheduled after a number of members of parliament contracted Covid-19 even though it was “one of the most productive sessions with 27 bills passed in 10 continuous sittings”. Among those bills were the three farm laws that have sparked the current farmer protests. The Session was held amid unprecedented protocols and regular testing of the members. Still, at least 17 members of the Lok Sabha and eight members of the Rajya Sabha contracted the virus and the government was prompted to cut short the Session. Rajya Sabha chairman and Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu tested positive for the virus after the session was adjourned sine die. During the monsoon session of Parliament, two MPs died and one Central minister of the Bharatiya Janata Party – Suresh Angadi – succumbed to the virus. If one looks at the age of MPs in the parliament, there are 350 MPs from both Houses who are above the age of 60 and thus more vulnerable to Covid-19. In March 2020, the Budget Session was cut short as Covid-19 caseloads rose forcing the government to impose the lockdown nationwide.

However, it is not the first time that an important session was scrapped. There were three instances in the past when the Winter Session was scrapped entirely – 1975, 1979 and 1984. Impact of pandemic can be gauged from the fact that all sessions of parliament in this year have been cut short, placing the year  2020 with the fewest days of parliament functioning.

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