Why is PM Modi inaugurating the new Parliament building?

Is this the Prime Minister's role, or is it a breach of Constitutional privileges? Who is the right person for the job?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to the new Parliament building on Thursday, March 30 (photo: National Herald files)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to the new Parliament building on Thursday, March 30 (photo: National Herald files)

Ashlin Mathew

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to inaugurate the new Parliament building on May 28, which has been constructed at an estimated cost of ₹970 crore. But is inauguration by the PM a violation of protocol and tradition? Experts say it is.

Article 53 of the Constitution states that the executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President and shall be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him in accordance with the Constitution. It adds that nothing in this article prevents Parliament from conferring functions on authorities other than the President by law.

Experts (who did not want to be named) stated that the Indian Parliament includes the President and the two houses—the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. “[The] President is part of Parliament, so he should be inaugurating the new Parliament. This is why the President addresses both the houses at beginning of the first session of each year,” said an expert on Parliamentary matters.

The President’s annual opening speech highlights the government’s policy priorities and plans for the upcoming year and provides a broad framework for the government’s agenda and direction.

Similarly critical of the Prime Minister’s plan, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP Manoj K Jha said that it was a violation of protocol. "The PM deciding to inaugurate the new Parliament goes against the idea of Parliament and parliamentary democracy. The President is the head of the institution. The PM may get a photo op, but that doesn’t serve parliamentary democracy," said Jha.

The Prime Minister is only the leader of one house of Parliament—the Lower House, the Lok Sabha—just as Piyush Goyal is the leader of the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha. It was a break from protocol when Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla met Modi on Thursday to invite him to inaugurate the new Parliament Building.

Congress MP Manish Tewari pointed towards Article 79 of the Constitution, which states that, 'There shall be a Parliament for the Union which shall consist of the President and two Houses to be known respectively as the Council of States and the House of the People'.

He underscored that the Prime Minister is only the leader of the Lok Sabha and treasury benches: "Propriety demanded that the President should inaugurate the new Parliament."

Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury seemed to concur with Tewari, highlighting that the protocol is for the President to summon Parliament, give assent to all bills and inaugurate every session.

"Anything to do with a new Parliament should have been done by the President as per the Constitution," Yechury told the National Herald. "The [laying of the] foundation stone, the installation of the national emblem and now the inauguration of the new building are all being done by the PM instead. We have a Dalit and tribal President, who should have laid the foundation stone and who should have inaugurated the building."

Meanwhile, Tewari felt the more important question was whether there was a need for a new Parliament building at all. "Earlier Parliament would sit for 120 days, now it has been reduced to 60 days. How does the new Parliament solve the issue of it not functioning well?" Tewari told the National Herald.

The inauguration of the new Parliament building coincides with the 140th birth anniversary of Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

The ruling BJP government will also celebrate nine years of coming to power on May 29.

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Published: 19 May 2023, 8:47 PM