Given the magnitude of the opposition to the land acquisition Bill, the best-case scenario for the government is a replay of the sequence that had unfolded way back in 2002 for the enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota), which is the last legislation passed in a joint sitting of Parliament.
The Modi government may draw comfort from this precedent set by the Vajpayee government as Pota, like the land Bill, had its origins in an ordinance and the joint sitting took place during the Budget session within a week of the rejection of the Bill in Rajya Sabha.
The parallels are striking as the Vajpayee government, like the Modi government, had enough numbers to have its way only in the Lok Sabha and it was only the combined strength of the NDA coalition in the two Houses that had allowed it to push through the controversial law. One difference, though, is that the Vajpayee government resorted to the joint sitting after the ordinance had been re-promulgated.
When the terror ordinance was first promulgated on October 24, 2001, in the wake of 9/11, opposition MPs prevented the government from introducing the ordinance-replacing Bill in the winter session that was hit by the December 13 attack on Parliament. This necessitated the re-promulgation of the ordinance soon after the winter session, in a slightly amended form to address the concerns of the opposition.
In the Budget session of 2002, the terror Bill was defeated in the Rajya Sabha on March 21 after it had been passed by Lok Sabha three days earlier. It was then that the government invoked Article 108 of the Constitution only for the third time in the history of the Indian Republic to call the joint sitting.
In the nine-and-half hour joint sitting that took place in the Central Hall on March 26, the terror Bill was passed with 425 voting in favor, 296 against and 60 abstaining. Pota came into force two days later after President K R Narayanan gave his assent. The other occasions on which a joint sitting had broken a legislative deadlock was for the passage of the dowry prohibition Bill in 1961 and the banking service commission repeal Bill in 1978.
According to the procedure prescribed in Article 108, there are three situations in which a joint sitting can be convened by the President after the Bill in question has been passed by one House and transmitted to the other House:
“the Bill is rejected by the other House”
“the Houses have finally disagreed as to the amendments to be made in the Bill”
“more than six months lapse from the date of the reception of the Bill by the other House without the Bill being passed by it.”
The constitutional provision also clarifies that the six-month period in the third situation refers essentially to the days that “the other House” is in session.
This situation will arise only in the unlikely event when the Opposition somehow prevents the Rajya Sabha from putting the land acquisition Bill to vote.