Indian Parliament. winter session
The Special Session of Parliament convened by the government may be as stormy as the monsoon session was.

Explained: 5 bills set to make sparks fly in Parliament Special Session

The most contentious is the one giving the government a free hand in the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner

Allaying at least some speculation about the business that will be conducted during the Special Session of Parliament, the Narendra Modi government on Wednesday (September 13) listed five bills for discussion. The five-day session starts on September 18, a day after Modi turns 73.

The bills that will come up for discussion in both houses of Parliament are the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023; the Advocates (Amendment) Bill, 2023; the Repealing and Amending Bill, 2022; the Post Office Bill, 2023; and the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023. The government introduced the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023 on August 10 in the Rajya Sabha, the bill is pending in both houses. Both the Advocates (Amendment) Bill and the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill were passed by the Rajya Sabha during the monsoon session but awaits a nod from the lower house before they are sent for presidential assent.

Bypassing the judiciary in the selection of the ECI panel

The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners Bill seeks to repeal the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991. It intends to bypass a Supreme Court ruling of March 2 which had held that the selection of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Election Commissioners (ECs) shall be made by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition or the leader of the single-largest opposition party in Parliament and the Chief Justice of India. The ruling sought to change the way appointments to the Election Commission of India (ECI) were made by the Centre, giving both the Opposition and the judiciary a say.

What the bill entails is not lost on experts who are closely watching the government move.

“Altering the system of appointment of the CEC and ECs is not a wise step as the Supreme Court has adjudicated the issue in the right perspective and the changes the government has proposed are contrary to the democratic principles. They are likely to affect the independence of the Election Commission,” KS Chauhan, Sr Advocate of the Supreme Court, said.

The ECI bill has the same arrangements with regard to the appointments of the CEC and other members of the Election Commission by the President of India. It seeks to “add the CEC and other ECs will be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a Selection Committee”.

However, this committee has no place for the judiciary in the bill and gives the government a free hand in the appointment of the search committee which will prepare a panel (selection committee) of five persons for the selection of ECI members. “A Search Committee will prepare a panel of five persons for the consideration of the Selection Committee. The Search Committee will be headed by the Cabinet Secretary. It will have two other members, not below the rank of Secretary to the central government, having knowledge and experience in matters related to elections. The Selection Committee may also consider candidates who have not been included in the panel prepared by the Search Committee,” states the proposed bill.

The proposed law, it is obvious, seeks to downgrade members of the ECI from the status of a Supreme Court judge to a cabinet secretary.

Instead of straightaway bringing the bill to the house, the Centre should have sent it to the Standing Committee of Parliament, observed SY Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), while speaking to The Federal. “The government should rather refer the proposed bill to the Standing Committee of Parliament to discuss in detail the pros and cons and suggest amendments,” Quraishi said. This was the course the government should have taken, added the former CEC.

Touts in the legal profession and repeal of the obsolete

The Advocates (Amendment) Bill seeks to “repeal certain sections related to touts under the Legal Practitioners Act, 1879, and brings them under the ambit of Advocates Act, 1961”. The bill aims to regulate the legal profession through a single law and penalise touts.

The next proposed law to be tabled for discussion in the Rajya Sabha during the Special Session is the Repealing and Amending Bill, 2022. The bill has already been passed by the lower house in December 2022 and “seeks to repeal 65 laws that are obsolete or that have been made redundant by other laws”.

Interception of post and publication of periodicals

The Post Office Bill, next on the agenda of the government, seeks to change the Indian Post Office Act of 1898 to confine the power to intercept a consignment to the central government only and brings in elements of “security of the state” and “public order, emergency, or public safety” in its scope.

Seeking to replace the Press and Registration of Books Act of 1867, the proposed Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill forbids a “person who has been convicted of a terrorist act or unlawful activity or has acted against the security of the State will not be allowed to publish a periodical”.

Will the bills have a smooth going?

With 113 MPs in the Rajya Sabha and a brute majority the BJP enjoys in the Lok Sabah, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has an upper hand in both houses. Even though it may be able to sail all bills through both houses without much hiccups, it may face stiff resistance from a united opposition, particularly on the ECI bill and sparks are set to fly.

The Special Session, thus, may not be confined to the celebration of India’s “Parliamentary Journey of 75 years starting from Samvidhan Sabha – Achievements, Experiences, Memories and Learnings”, as the government intends to make it.

To pull a fast one on the Opposition, the government may introduce more bills in the upcoming special session.

Read More
Next Story