The debate about separation of powers and judicial activism under Indian Constitution is raging presently, and one of the major reasons for regular judicial intervention (mostly for the right reasons) is that, more often than not the regular Parliament session gets washed out because of political exigencies, due which the regular legislative work suffers. It is this legislative vacuum which is often supplanted by the venerated Judiciary. The recent delay in the coming winter session of the Parliament highlights the same problem, due to elections in two states in India, the winter session has not been called on its conventional time i.e. mid-November to December. This piece is an attempt to examine the provision related to summoning of the House and need for a continuous House to facilitate legislative activity and ensuring accountability of the executive.
The Government of India Act, 1935 envisaged, that the central legislature shall be summoned to meet at least once a year and not more than 12 months can elapse between two sessions. Since the central legislature was a creature of British origin, accountability was the last thing that was expected of it. The real reason for keeping just one session a year was to avoid scrutiny by the hands of Indian members of central legislature. The earlier experience with great Gopal Krishna Gokhale destroying the budget put forth by the English, thread bare might be one of the reasons of this.
But during the in discussions of the Constituent Assembly this lacuna was done away with and it was decided that the Parliament henceforth would meet at least twice a year which was later amended to its present form vide first amendment to the Indian Constitution.
The Article 85 in its present form reads:
“Sessions of Parliament, prorogation and dissolution –
- The President shall from time to time summon each House of Parliament to meet at such time and place he thinks fit, but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in next session.
- The President may from time to time-
- Prorogue the Houses or either House
- Dissolve the House of the People.”
There is no minimum requirement as to the number of days the Parliament has to sit, but if recent trends are any indication the number of days the Parliament sits have been steadily decreasing. Many committees have recommended that the Parliament must sit for at least 120 days per year. At a time when questions are being raised about the working days of the Judges a query or two is bound to be raised about effective working days of the Parliament. The counter view to this is that the parliamentarians need to spend time in their constituency where they need to hear about the day to day problems of the electorate.
The Parliament is one of the means of ensuring accountability of the executive, the questions asked in the Parliament have a bearing on issues of national and international importance. In addition to that consistency in the legislative process is a hall mark of a well-functioning democracy. The constant decline in the time of sitting of the Parliament and a consistently election mode polity in India requires regular siting of Parliament.
At present the Parliament is summoned by the President at the time and place he thinks fit, as the President works on the aid and advise of the Council of Ministers the summoning of the House is in way controlled by the executive thus effectively undermining the Parliament’s right to scrutinize executive functioning according to the common will of the house. The summoning of the House cannot be left alone in the hands of the executive rather efforts should be made to device a permanent mechanism whereby the Parliament is never out of session.
The answer to the problem lies in a formalized calendar of sitting of the Houses, in which the legislative agenda is clearly delimited with provisions as to contingencies also made. In Countries like the USA and Canada the legislatures are in session throughout the year.
A Continuous house ensures accountability of the executive throughout the year, it will also inform common citizens about the legislative agenda of the year and what policy measures would be taken by the Government of the day. Another issue it takes care of is legislation by ordinance making. A Constitutional amendment to Article 85 to keep the Parliament always in session is the need of the hour.
 Article 74 of the Constitution of India