Unlike other institutions, Parliament does
not work throughout the year. Our constitution specifies that ‘six
months shall not intervene’ between the last sitting of one session and
the first sitting of the next. This provision effectively ensures that
Parliament meets at least twice a year. Over the years, parliamentary
convention has evolved towards having three sessions in a year— the
Budget (February to May), Monsoon (July to August/September) and Winter
(November to December) sessions.
Legislative expediency and political compulsions have ensured that
this convention has been deviated from on different occasions. For
example, this year the ongoing monsoon session is the third session of
the year, as the Budget Session was converted into two separate
sessions. This was done in order to enable the issuance of an Ordinance.
In 2008, the monsoon session of Parliament was extended till
November-December which meant that there were only two sessions during
the year. This was done to prevent a second no confidence motion being
moved against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s first Government.
However other Parliaments usually meet for the entire year. For
example, the British Parliament is in session throughout the year. Its
session begins in the spring with the state opening of Parliament, and
it meets for 12 months, with time off for festivals and breaks. Canada
follows a similar practice.
In the last ten years Lok Sabha has met for an average of 70 number
of days in a year. This number was much higher during the 1950s and
1960s when the lower house used to meet for an average of 120 number of
days in a year. Parliament as an institution of oversight monitors the
working of the Government. When it is in session, members have the
opportunity to put questions to Government ministers and participate in
debates on the functioning of Government. If the number of days for
which Parliament meets is limited, its ability to hold the Government
accountable is weakened.
In the United Kingdom, the House of Commons met for an average of
150 days a year over the last fifteen years. The United States House of
representatives met for an average of 140 days every year during the
In India, Parliament does not have the power to convene itself. The
President on advice of the Council of Ministers summons Parliament.
This means, Parliament effectively meets at the behest of the
Government. The Government therefore can choose to convene Parliament
depending on the business it needs to push through. As a body that is
entrusted to be the ‘watchdog’ of our democracy these restraints result
in its weakening.
Since parliament does not have the power to convene itself, it has
been suggested that it should meet for a minimum number of working days
in a year. The National Commission to Review the Working of the
Constitution had recommended that a minimum number of working days for
Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha should be fixed at 120 and 100 respectively.
Vice President Hamid Ansari while inaugurating the Whips Conference in
2008 had suggested an increase in the number of sittings of Parliament
to 130 days per annum. In 2008, Rajya Sabha MP Mahendra Mohan introduced
a private member bill to amend the constitution to specify a minimum of
120 working days.
Recent years have witnessed washouts of parliamentary sessions due
to repeated disruptions. With parliament meeting throughout the year
there is a possibility that time lost due to disruptions can be made up
without compromising on other parliamentary business. If Parliament were
to meet more frequently, the pressure of completing legislative
business in a limited time will also ease up leading to lesser number of
pending bills. More parliamentary sitting days will allow both the
treasury and opposition benches adequate time to bring their issues to
the floor of the House.