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Winter Session of Parliament Kicks Off on Adjournment Note, Two Bills Passed

Though slated for the first day of this session, the Ethics Committee Report on Mahua Moitra, recommending her expulsion from parliament, was not tabled on Monday, December 4.
A video screengrab from Sansad TV, showing the Lok Sabha on July 28.

New Delhi: Basking in their electoral victory in three states, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seemed not in the mood to fight out with the opposition on legislative issues on the first day of the winter session of parliament on Monday, December 4. While the Lok Sabha was adjourned twice over the Mahua Moitra matter, the Rajya Sabha proceedings went on as a smooth affair.

The last winter session of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government before the 2024 polls will have 15 working days with a heavy legislative agenda, which includes replacing the Indian Penal Code Act with the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill 2023. The other Bills likely to be taken up in this session are the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill 2023, the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill 2023, and legislation for the appointment of election commissioners. A discussion is slated for the next week on the penal code Bill with between 12- 15 hours set aside for discussion in both Houses.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi got a standing ovation from his party members in Lok Sabha with chants of “Modi Modi” echoing in the chamber of the new parliament building. Protests that such enthusiasm was best reserved for a party office drowned in the loud cheers and slogans of “Modi ki sarkar, teesri baar (Modi’s government poised for a third term)”.  Along with home minister Amit shah and defence minister Rajnath Singh, Modi watched the praise being showered silently.

But the elephant in the room was the Ethics Committee report that was listed to be tabled Monday but never was because the Treasury Benches were in no mood to allow Trinamool Congress (TMC) to steal its thunder. TMC members, who had a “lukewarm response” to Mahua Moitra till recently, rallied behind her with the Lok Sabha adjourning twice.

The Lok Sabha Ethics Committee report has recommended the expulsion of Moitra over the “cash-for-query” allegations levelled against her by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey. Moitra told reporters she will comment once the report is tabled. Mamata Banerjee, her party chief, had in a nod of support broken her silence on the controversy recently. Meanwhile, Dubey has accused the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and TMC bete noire Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of leaking the Ethics panel report, while Choudhury had written to the Lok Sabha Speaker that expulsion is too harsh a punishment.

There was a reprieve for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Rajya Sabha MP Raghav Chadha whose suspension was reversed by the Rajya Sabha. Chadha apologised unconditionally and a motion was moved by BJP MP G.V.L. Narasimha Rao to revoke the suspension. Within a minute of his entry into the House, Chadha issued a video thanking Chairman Jagdeep Dhankar. “At least for 115 days, I was suspended. During those days, I could not ask your questions inside Parliament and was not able to raise your voice inside the House,” he said.

“I am happy that my suspension was ended. I am thankful to the Supreme Court and Rajya Sabha chairman for this,” he said.

Chadha was suspended from the House in August for breach of privilege of the House. Four MPs had complained about the breach of their privilege stating that their names had been included in an amendment moved by Chadha to refer the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2023 to a Select Committee without their consent.

The Post Office Bill 2023 was passed in the Rajya Sabha and the Advocates (Amendment) Bill, 2023 in the Lok Sabha on Monday before both Houses were adjourned to meet tomorrow. While the Advocates Bill seeks to get rid of touts in the various courts, it is the Postal Bill that will be viewed with concern. According to the proposed legislation, “The central government may, by notification, empower any officer to intercept, open or detain any item in the interest of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, emergency or public safety, or upon the occurrence of any contravention of any of the provisions of any law for the time being in force.”

‘This is an act of surveillance on citizens, fails to specify procedures and the grounds are very vague. Moreover, there are no consequences for the unauthorised opening of postal articles by a postal officer. This is a violation of articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution,” Congress Rajya Sabha MP Shaktisinh Govil said.

The opposition has demanded, during the session, a discussion on the Manipur violence, the Silkyara tunnel imbroglio, and the Indians on death row in Qatar.

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