By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 2 Dec: It has become a trend in recent years to shorten the number of sittings of the state assemblies across the country to the bare minimum. In Uttarakhand, too, this trend is clearly evident. 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, the House ran till late evenings and almost every session lasted more than a week. Afterwards, the trend began to keep the sessions short.
The situation has come to the level now that the last session, which began on 29 November this week, lasted only two days. The previous session, too, had lasted merely three days. Despite the claims made by the government that no business was left with the government to conduct in the House during the session, there can be no justification for such short sessions.
Ideally, Parliament should sit for a minimum of 150 days in a year which the British Parliament manages to do. The state assemblies should sit for a minimum of 60 days. While the parliament in India 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 year 2016 and 2021, the Uttarakhand Assembly ran for an average of 25 days every year. Now it is running not even for 15 days.
It may be recalled that the session is often convened just to keep the assembly alive and to get the budget, the supplementary budget or some 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.
There are many 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. per the assembly regulations in force for Uttarakhand. Regulations regarding conduct and procedures of the House have been adopted from the UP Assembly Regulations, with omission of certain rules and regulations. In earlier years of Uttarakhand, the quality of questions asked in the House was such that they kept the ministers on their toes since really relevant and searching questions were asked. 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, which sometime leads to embarrassment of the ministers concerned and they are easily cornered by the members. In the past seven or eight years, it has been noticed that the ministers have been put on the mat more by the members of the Treasury Benches rather than members from the Opposition.
On the second day of the session held this week, Sumit Hridayesh, the Congress MLA from Haldwani, justifiably raised a point of order. He said that the government has been convening the sessions on Tuesdays every time, whereas Monday is the day for the Chief Minister to respond to the questions asked regarding the departments held by him. Hence, the CM has been able to avoid answering questions since the session never begins on Monday and does not last till next Monday.
During the time of Trivendra Singh Rawat as CM, this issue was even of greater concern as he held the most important portfolios like PWD, Health, Industry, Housing and Power. Now, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami does not hold charge of so many important departments concerning the public directly. Even then, he does hold charge of several important departments and, hence, it does become important to hold sitting on Mondays so that questions related to his departments could also be answered in the House.
This time, on the first day of the session, several bills were tabled in the House by the government in addition to the six that had been permitted to be tabled by the Business Advisory Committee for the first days. Bills such as Women Reservations Bill were tabled without being in the agenda of the House for the first day and this was rightly objected to by the Opposition member, Pritam Singh, and the Leader of the Opposition Yashpal Arya.
With regard to convening the House just for two days, Speaker Ritu Khanduri said that, while the session had been convened till 5 December, it was curtailed as the government had completed its business in merely two days. Speaking to Garhwal Post in this regard, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prem Chand Aggarwal claimed that most of the bills tabled in the House during the current session were mainly amendments, which did not require much debate. And, he further claimed, that the business got over in two days, and therefore the session ended. He also added that House did discuss the Women’s Empowerment Bill and the bill was appreciated by even the Opposition members of the House. The members did not seem interested in debating other bills but the opportunity had been granted to them. He also denied the charge that the government had rushed through the bills during this session.
Even the Opposition members did not seem interested in prolonging the session beyond two days, even if they blamed the government for curtailing the session. It appears to be a fixed match between the Treasury benches and the Opposition to keep the sessions short.