December 18, 2023
NEW DELHI – After the peaceful start of its Winter Session, Parliament was last week jolted by an incident which none could have imagined when two young men jumped into the Lok Sabha chamber from its first floor public gallery on Wednesday afternoon while members were making Zero Hour submissions.
One of the two youths jumped on the MPs’ benches to move towards the Speaker’s chair, but was caught by members while the other burst white and yellow gas from small plastic canisters. As chaos prevailed, Mr Rajendra Agarwal, sitting in the Speaker’s chair, adjourned the House. The scene was shocking as it happened on the 22nd anniversary of the horrific 13 December, 2001 attack on Parliament in which nine personnel were killed.
Not just the Government, Opposition MPs of both Houses were also agitated over the question how Parliament security could be breached so audaciously on a day when the House had paid tributes to the martyrs of the 2001 attack.
As the two Houses reassembled after break, the Opposition sought answers from the government, and a statement by Home Minister Amit Shah. They shouted slogans and entered the wells of the two Houses. In their protest, they even ignored the directions of Speaker Om Birla in the Lok Sabha and of Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar in the Rajya Sabha. For defying the Chair, 13 members of the Lok Sabha and one of the Rajya Sabha were suspended from the two Houses for the remainder of the Winter Session which ends on next Friday.
Parliamentarians will continue to wonder for some time whether what they saw on 13th December last was really true. What has really shocked everyone was that the serious security lapse took place in the new building of Parliament, and this was the first regular session of Parliament being held there, since the earlier four-day session was a Special Session, in addition to the three yearly sessions.
There are different entry gates to the new building for different categories of people and there is more than one stage of screening the visitors. As investigations continue to unravel the motives behind the security breach, the incident broke the tempo of work in Parliament.
The two Houses lost much of their business on three days from Wednesday, although Monday and Tuesday had normal work. The Lok Sabha discussed for four hours supplementary budget for 2023-24 and additional expenditure done during 2020-21 on Monday, after answering questions during the Question Hour and raising important issues by the members.
The next day, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman replied to the debate on the financial Bills before they were passed. In other business on Tuesday, the three earlier Bills, the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023, meant to replace existing criminal laws of the country, were withdrawn and their revised versions were introduced in the Lok Sabha.
The House discussed and passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Second Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Government of Union Territories (Amendment) Bill, 2023, after three hours of debate. The Rajya Sabha too had hectic schedule and passed the two earlier Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation and Reservation Bills after a lengthy debate and a spirited reply by Home Minister Amit Shah, asserting how mistakes by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the Kashmir issue had left a legacy of Article 370, which generated a feeling of separatism, encouraging thereby people to take to terrorist activity.
The next day, the Rajya Sabha passed the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, after an animated debate in which the Opposition freely participated and pointed to the dominance of the Executive on selection of the Election Commissioners in the Bill. Law and Justice Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal maintained the Opposition fears were far-fetched; the Bill had prescribed basic qualifications for Election Commissioner.
Even on 13th December, the two Houses transacted work before and after the security breach at 1 pm. The Lok Sabha had introduced the Central Goods and Services Tax (Second Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Provisional Collection of Taxes Bill, after Question Hour and statements by Ministers. The Upper House passed the Central Universities (Amendment) Bill, 2023.