The President's address to Parliament on January 31 will contain the government’s report card on the state of the economy, and will be no less important than the interim Budget announcements, says A K Bhattacharya.
A new session of Parliament will begin on January 31, just about three weeks after the conclusion of its winter session.
The winter session of Parliament had begun on December 11, 2018.
After 17 sittings spread over almost a month, the Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die on January 8 and the Rajya Sabha too was similarly adjourned on January 9.
Significantly, the President prorogued both the houses on January 10, thereby signalling that Parliament was no longer in session.
For the government, this was a political necessity.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, also known as the triple talaq bill, is yet to be passed by the Rajya Sabha.
The ordinance that was promulgated to enforce the provisions of this bill lapsed on January 21.
The government could not have re-promulgated the ordinance if the winter session of Parliament had not been prorogued.
This is also the reason why the Narendra Modi government did not follow the path that was taken by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2004 in a similar situation.
That was also an election year. The winter session of Parliament then had begun on December 2, 2003.
After a few sittings, the Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die on December 23. The Rajya Sabha too was adjourned sine die on the same day.
But the winter session of the two houses was not prorogued. In other words, Parliament had remained in session.
Using this provision in the rules, the Lok Sabha secretary-general issued a notice on January 20, 2004 to resume the session of the lower house from January 29.
Similarly, the Rajya Sabha was reconvened on January 30.
This gave rise to a big controversy. Parliament debated if its rules were violated by not having the President deliver an address to both the houses at the start of the first session in a new year.
The government argued that the session that began on January 29 and 30, 2004, was not a new session, but only a second phase of the winter session that had been adjourned sine die on December 23, 2003.
This was challenged in the court also, but the petition that not having the President address the session on January 29 violated the Constitution was dismissed.
What did the Vajpayee government achieve by treating the January 2004 session as an extension of the previous one?
It obviated the need for the President to deliver an address to both houses of Parliament outlining the government’s agenda.
Instead, Finance Minister Jaswant Singh presented the interim Budget on February 3, 2004, and a few days later, on February 6, the Lok Sabha was dissolved, paving the way for the general elections in May 2004.
The President addressed a joint session of Parliament that year only after the general elections -- on June 7, with a new government in place.
The Modi government’s decision to prorogue the sessions of both the houses of Parliament may have been driven by another consideration.
The Parliament session to begin from January 31, 2019, will be treated as the first session of a new year.
This will require the President to deliver an address to both the houses of Parliament.
This will be an opportunity for the government to convey through the President’s speech its programmes for the coming year.
With general elections to be held in the next few months, this is an opportunity that the government would not have liked to miss.
The forthcoming session of Parliament will also be keenly followed because of the interim Budget that is scheduled to be presented on February 1.
Jaitley’s earlier statement that he would frame the interim Budget keeping in mind the current economic reality had sparked speculation that the government may announce new policies and a fresh package of tax incentives for individuals.
With no Economic Survey before the presentation of the interim Budget, an official assessment of the state of the economy during 2018-19 will have to await the presentation of the full Budget after the general elections are held and a new government is in place.
As it happened in 2014, the Survey to be tabled in Parliament after the general elections will be able to present a complete picture of the economy in 2018-19 as all relevant data will be available by then.
The President’s address to Parliament on January 31, therefore, assumes greater importance as that would contain the government’s report card on the state of the economy.
It will be no less important than the interim Budget announcements to be made a day later.