Indian politicians in final meeting at British-era parliament building for special session

Prime Minister Narendra Modi says five-day session will consist of 'historic decisions'

The old parliament building in New Delhi, India, on Monday, before a rare special session with Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising that the five-day gathering of lawmakers will yield 'historic decisions'. Bloomberg
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Indian politicians are convening for the final time in the British-era parliament building for a special session of the parliament on Monday.

Parliamentarians will discuss eight bills, including proposed changes to the selection of the country’s election chief, as the nation draws closer to national polls.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the session will consist of “historic decisions”.

“This session of the parliament is short but going by the time, it is huge. This is a session of historic decisions. A speciality of this session is that the journey of 75 years is starting from a new destination,” Mr Modi said ahead of the session.

The session, from Monday to Friday, will be partly held in the historic building that was built 94 years ago by the British before lawmakers move to the new house on Tuesday.

Mr Modi spoke about the history of the parliament and “inspirational moments” as he remembered his first days at the house.

“When I entered the parliament building for the first time as a parliamentarian, I bowed my head at the doorstep to pay respect to this temple of democracy,” Mr Modi said.

“This is an opportunity to remember the 75 years of India’s parliament journey and before going to the new parliament building, we are exiting this historic building.

"We cannot forget that while foreign hands were behind it, this old Parliament building was built with the sweat, hard work, and money of our countrymen," Mr Modi said while beginning his speech.

Narendra Modi inaugurates new parliament building – in pictures

He spoke about major decisions taken at the parliament, including the abrogation of Article 370 which gave special powers to the semi-autonomous status of the disputed Muslim-dominated Kashmir region. His government had called the annulment a “historic” decision.

Shashi Tharoor, a parliamentarian from the opposition Indian National Congress party, said: “It will be a sad moment.

"Let's hope that the new building has better facilities, new technology and more convenience for the Members of Parliament ... but still, it is always an emotional moment to leave an institution which is so full of history and memories."

The session of parliament was announced earlier this month, surprising opposition leaders who criticised Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party for not disclosing the agenda of the special session.

It was speculated that the government would announce its agenda to officially shun the country’s name from India to Bharat or introduce a bill on "One Nation One Election”, a proposed legislation to hold simultaneous national and regional elections in the country.

The government had claimed there is no tradition of revealing the agenda of a special session, but last week it said that there will be eight bills listed for consideration and passage including one on the Chief Election Commissioner’s appointment and services.

India's new parliament building in New Delhi. EPA

The CEC heads the Election Commission of India, a constitutional body responsible for conducting free and fair elections in the country.

Critics have argued that the bill, if passed, would downgrade the CEC’s position, whose service conditions and salaries were until now on par with Supreme Court judges but would be reduced and made equivalent to a bureaucrat of a cabinet secretary’s rank.

The downgrading of the position could also stifle their authority and independence and cause hindrance for them to take action against politicians.

The other bills expected to be discussed are the Post Office Bill that proposes to bring flexibility and modernise the country's postal services, the Advocates (Amendment) Bill that proposes to regulate the legal profession and the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill that will replace an old legislation that governs the registration of the print and publishing industry in the country.

There is also speculation the government might table the much-awaited Women’s Reservation Bill that proposes to reserve 33 per cent of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, and 1,370 of a total 4,109 seats in all state legislative assemblies for women.

The bill was first introduced in 1996 but has failed to be passed in parliament.

Updated: September 18, 2023, 1:58 PM