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Nervous govt explores joint sitting to overcome ordinance logjam

Recently, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had scoffed at the prospect of the Opposition stalling the passage of crucial ordinances in Parliament, indicating a joint sitting of both Houses could be resorted to.

Parliamentary affairs ministry officials admit the government’s priority is to get Opposition parties on board, especially in the Rajya Sabha, where the Bharatiya Janata Party is low on numbers. Though a joint sitting is a way out, it might be the last recourse.

So far, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has promulgated six ordinances and these have to be cleared within six weeks of the first sitting of the Budget session.

According to Article 108 of the Constitution, a joint sitting can be called only under certain circumstances — if one House passes a Bill but the other rejects it; or both Houses disagree on the amendments in a Bill; or if six months pass from the date a Bill is received by a House, without it being passed.

If the attitude of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in the winter session is anything to go by, Opposition benches refusing to clear the Bills is a distinct possibility.

Should the Bills be kept pending for six months, a joint sitting could be convened. However, it appears there are divergent views on the fine print, too. According to sources in the parliamentary affairs ministry, six months refers to 180 days of actual sittings of the Houses, not six calendar months, as is commonly construed. This could translate into a period of more than two years, given a House sits for 67 days a year on an average (including all three sessions — Budget, monsoon and winter). According to a proviso in Article 108, in reckoning this six-month period, if a House is adjourned or prorogued for more than four days, that period will not be taken into account.

T K Vishwanath, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha, told Business Standard, “The period of six months will amount to the actual 180 days of sittings of the House but include periods when breaks are for less than four days… A joint sitting is easier said than done. It could take more than two years before it can be summoned.”

Subhash Kashyap, another former secretary general of the Lok Sabha, however, said the six-month period pertained to calendar months. “It refers to six calendar months from the date of receipt of the Bill in the other House, excluding the days of prorogation… After all, the intention of the six-month period is to enable the House to take up the Bill seriously, within a reasonable period of time.”

In the past, there have been three occasions when a joint sitting has been summoned — by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government to pass the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002; the passage of the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961; and the Banking Service Commission Repeal Bill in 1978.

LOOKING FOR A SOLUTION

WHEN CAN A JOINT SITTING OF THE HOUSES BE SUMMONED?
A joint sitting can be summoned if after a Bill has been passed by a House and transmitted to the other

  • It is rejected by the other House
  • The Houses disagree on the amendments in the Bill
  • 6 months pass from the date the Bill is received by the other House, without it being passed (if the House is adjourned or prorogued for more than 4 days, that period isn’t taken into account)

ORDINANCES PASSED BY THE NDA GOVT

  • Citizenship (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015
  • Ordinance to amend the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act, 1957
  • Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Ordinance, 2014
  • Insurance Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014
  • Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015
  • Ordinance to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013

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