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Why these shrinking Assembly Sessions? 

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By RP Nailwal

Is it not a matter of great concern that while the members of the legislative assembly in Uttarakhand are looking for a sharp increase in their Vidhayak Nidhi, they have no time to debate the subjects of prime interests to the state? This, despite a handsome salary package with perks and privileges.

This time again the state assembly’s stipulated session ended abruptly on account of what is being termed as “lack of business”. It is indeed interesting to note that, over the years, the state assembly sessions have been held for minimum number of days adequately reflecting the attitude of the successive governments and public representatives towards crucial public issues. Instead of focusing on the pressing problems, their focus seems to be on getting their Nidhi raised. As per the rule, the state assembly session should be held sixty days in a year.

While one can understand the compulsions of the successive ruling parties of Uttarakhand in reducing the debate timeframe on some pretext or the other, the total silence on the part of the opposition in this regard raises doubts whether the ruling party and the Opposition have a tacit understanding. MLAs don’t seem to be keen on sitting in the House even for a fortnight to discuss crucial public interest ìssues. Why? Incidentally, the only debate between the Government and the Opposition revolves around whether the assembly session should be held in Dehradun or Gairsain; or the raise in the amount of Vidhyak Nidhi. Where are we heading?

There are any number of issues confronting this small state right from its inception, such as the need for a strong legislation on the sale and purchase of land, like the one obtaining in  the adjoining  Himachal Pradesh, appointment of a powerful Lokayukt, proper redistribution of assets and liabilities with Uttar Pradesh under the UP Reorganisation Act, 2000, and food security umbrella, etc. The parent state, Uttar Pradesh, has not shown any flexibility in the division of assets, despite the fact that the ruling governments in both the states are of the same political party.

While proper laws on land and Lokayukt are still awaited by the people of the state, there are many ifs and buts in the resolution of division of assets. The appointment of a Lokyukt has been hanging fire for long. The appointment of a Lokayukt has been part of pre-poll promises made by political parties, right from the beginning.

Ever since the formation of the state, dozens scandals and corruption cases have hogged the headlines, but never ever has there been any serious attempt to bring to the fore the findings of so many inquiry commissions that were set up to unearth the truth. Stories about huge land deals, political involvement, contracts, backdoor entries, crime, foreign trips, potable water schemes, false payment bills, irregularities and mismanagement in education, medical and power sectors and so on and so forth continue to attract public attention. There is no end to alarming stories about the grim situation and attempts which are eating into the vitals of the young state, which was sought to be created on the premise that the hills of undivided Uttar Pradesh had remained neglected for far too long.

It may take reams of pages to recall and discuss the allegations of corruption in many government departments, but will it serve any purpose when such issues are not raised and debated in the state assembly. Will the people of the state ever know why and how such scandals took place and who was to blame for them? Even today, the situation is the same with hardly any time with public representatives to focus on the current burning issues.

Is it not the primary duty of the political class to fulfill the hopes, aims and aspirations of the distraught people?

I can vividly recall what the situation was like in the mid-eighties and early nineties when I first came to write about the problems and prospects of a neglected region. Poor education, health and road infrastructure in the hills, not to speak of absence of basic facilities often attracted my attention. Post the quake, the scenario in Uttarkashi and Tehri was really an eye opener for me where I was a close witness to the omissions and commissions of, both, government and non-government agencies. This was during my extensive stay and interaction with the quake victims in the rugged terrain. But my ground zero regular dispatches on the pressing need and neglect of the displaced people sent to my national newspaper did not seem to make any impact on the routine functioning of the Lucknow administration. The bureaucracy has its own ways.

The prolonged neglect apparently triggered the Uttarakhand movement and the rest is history.

(RP Nailwal is native of Uttarakhand. Formerly with the TOI, he now writes for papers as a freelauncer. He is an expert on various subjects related to the hills).