Home Dehradun Arya criticises govt over short assembly sessions

Arya criticises govt over short assembly sessions

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By Arun Pratap Singh

Dehradun, 11 Sep: This is ninth month of the year 2023. So far, only two sessions of the State Assembly have been convened. This year, the first session was in the month of March in Gairsain and the second session concluded on 8 September in Dehradun. The first session was the budget session, as it is mandatory for the government to get the budget approved in the House in order to incur any expenditure for the following financial year. The second session was the monsoon session and was necessary to summon for two major reasons. As per the Constitutional provisions, the intervening gap between the two sessions of the Parliament or the state assemblies should not be six or more months. The second reason was the need to get the Supplementary Budget approved from the House in order to keep on incurring expenditure for the remaining year.

It has become a trend in recent years to shorten the duration of the assembly sessions in Uttarakhand to the bare minimum. As per the Constitutional provisions, the Parliament should ideally sit for at least 150 days every year, while the state assemblies should sit for at least 60 days. However, as the Leader of the Opposition, Yashpal Arya, in a press conference held on Sunday has pointed out, last year the House ran for a total of only 8 days, while it has run for just 7 days this year, so far. The Budget session lasted four days while the Monsoon Session lasted barely 3 days. Of these three days, the first day was reserved for paying tribute to the late Chandan Ramdas, who was a sitting member of the current assembly and to Late Kunwar Singh, who was a member of the undivided UP assembly. This meant, there was a sitting of only two days with full working in this session.

The assembly sessions in Uttarakhand have been rather short since the beginning but what should be worrisome is the fact that the sessions are getting shorter with each passing year. The assembly sessions in other states too are getting shorter, but in most states the sessions are hardly this short.  When the state was formed in the year 2000 and an interim government took charge, the interim assembly which consisted of members of the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council of undivided Uttar Pradesh, ran for several days at a stretch. During Congress rule under Chief Minister ND Tiwari, too, the House ran till late evenings and almost every session lasted more than a week. During that period it was common to see three sessions every year and at least week-long sessions. Afterwards, the trend began to keep the sessions short.

If we see the sessions and the sittings of the House in the year before, there were only two sessions held. The first session lasted five days and the session held in November last year barely lasted three days. The justification usually offered by the government for the short sessions has remained the same – that no business was left with the government to conduct in the House for a longer period.

While parliament still sits for around 120 days in a year, the state assemblies hardly ever meet the minimum criteria. In Uttarakhand, for the past few years, the House has held sittings for an average of just 14 days in a year. This trend had begun in 2007, itself, but the number of days for which the House is convened is decreasing every year. Between the years 2016 and 2021, the Uttarakhand Assembly ran for an average of 14 days every year. Now it is running not even for ten days in a year, if we have a look at the number of sittings held in 2022 and in 2023. There is a likelihood of a one day special session being summoned to get an amended reservation bill passed either in September or in October because both the government and the Opposition want this bill to be passed in order to ensure 10 percent horizontal reservations in the government jobs for the statehood activists or their dependants. The bill had come up in the session on 6 September, but when it was being discussed for passage on 8 December, some members pointed out some technical lacunae in the bill and it was referred to a Select Committee. The current session has been adjourned sine die but the assembly session has not been prorogued as yet and it may be possible to summon a one day sitting of the House to pass the bill if the assembly is not prorogued till then.

The trend however makes it clear that the session is often convened just to keep the assembly alive and to get the budget, the supplementary budget or some other legislations passed. Other categories of business have become a mere formality. It may be recalled that, as per the constitutional provisions, the time gap between the two sessions in the Parliament or the state assemblies has to be less than six months, failing which the House ceases to exist. Yashpal Arya has been raising this issue in the House also and in the session which has been adjourned sine die last week only, he had raised a point of order in this regard. On Sunday, he spoke to the media too in this regard.

At the last session in Gairsain, on the last day of the two sessions, Congress member Sumit Hridayesh had also raised a point of order. He had pointed out that, over the past few sessions, the assembly sessions are being convened from Tuesdays onwards and with a short session each time, questions meant to be answered on Mondays never get to be answered. Monday is the day for CM or the Parliamentary Affairs Minister to respond to the questions pertaining to the departments, the charge of which is held by the Chief Minister. In this way, the CM gets away without answering the questions related to the departments under his charge. This is the situation, when the CM holds charge of some very important portfolios. In this respect, it is interesting to remind that Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has wisely handed over some important and crucial portfolios such as health, higher education, PWD, etc., to his cabinet colleagues unlike his predecessor Trivendra Singh Rawat. However, Housing, Industry and Power are other important portfolios still under the charge of the CM.

There are several other issues of concern. The members of the House have the privilege to ask questions during the Question Hour, which is held from Monday to Friday every week of the sitting from 11 a.m. till 12.20 p.m. With the shorter sessions in vogue now, questions of various departments don’t even get to be tabled, let alone physically answered by the minister.

In earlier years of Uttarakhand, the quality of questions asked in the House was such that they kept the ministers on their toes since these were really relevant and searching. However, the quality as well as number of questions asked has severely declined in recent years. The ministers too don’t prepare well enough to answer the questions. Even the bureaucrats who help the ministers in drafting the answers seem to have become more casual of late, and their approach has often led to embarrassment of the ministers concerned who are easily cornered by the members due to inappropriate answers.

One more thing pertinent to point out is that, in the past few years, it has been noticed that the ministers have been put on the mat more by the members of the Treasury Benches rather than those of the Opposition. Shorter sessions have resulted in poor homework even by the Opposition members. Yet another trend has been to summon a five day or a week-long session but in reality, to curtail the same to just two or three days by rushing through the government business.