Last week yet another session of the state legislature came to a close on a poignant note with deliberations on its usefulness to discuss and debate issues close to the general populace. Among the three sessions that the state legislature has during a year, the budget session offers six weeks to focus on the state’s financial health as the government plan for the new fiscal year came into effect on April 1.
What the media was dithering to say was voiced by none other than Speaker Dilip Walse Patil who, with some introspective and sharp remarks, referred to the casual approach of the MLAs towards the session. A lot of improvement was needed in the seriousness displayed by members in raising questions and of the ministers responding, said Patil, adding that he was not happy with the standard of legislative business in the last few sessions.
Words of the Speaker are always heard in rapt attention, as he is the custodian of the democratic norms followed in the august house. Parliament and legislatures are the soul of parliamentary democracy, as they directly represent people. Here laws are made and respective governments face scrutiny over their actions and decisions.
But alas, most of the time marked for business is being wasted in chaos, clamour and adjournments over various issues. The state assembly had 168 hours to conduct business but 62 hours and 30 minutes went to waste, said the Speaker, quoting statistics.
Of late a highly surprising feature is emerging like an unwritten rule, as parties in Opposition are looking towards stalling of the legislative business as a tool to corner the government.
In fact, the legislative sessions provide an opportunity to the opposition to debate and discuss issues concerning people. The government cannot run away or avoid answering.
Every word that the ministers say can always be challenged by members through various means.
For a government two things are crucial to be achieved through legislative business — one is the passage of bills, and the other is meeting demands of financial requirements, as the government cannot spend a single rupee without approval from the legislature. So, if business is stalled, the Opposition suffers and not the government, as the latter can always get bills approved by getting the majority on its side.
The state legislators earned some disparagement when a cop was beaten up by a few MLAs inside Vidhan Bhavan premises. However, attempts were also made to pass the buck to the cop for his alleged misbehaviour. The appointment of a legislative committee was perceived as an effort to halt the Crime Branch probe.
Finally, when the committee report came in with a recommendation to withdraw suspension of three MLAs during the budget session itself, it was rather rejected by the government. No proposal was moved by the Democratic Front to revoke the action against the three MLAs — two from Shiv Sena and one from the BJP – despite the fact that the committee has absolved them for want of substantive evidence.
An important feature of the budget session was the younger lot of legislators appeared quite unhappy over the frequent adjournments. Despite strong desire to speak on various issues affecting their constituencies, opportunity was lost. One of the important prospects was to participate in discussion on the annual budget and budgetary demands of the various departments. A discussion on annual budget can last up to seven days and it can go on till 12 days for departmental demands.
A recent incident at the state council is enough indication of the way our democracy is moving. During a debate on issues faced by cities, a member from the opposition benches drew attention of the house towards the fact that hardly any official from the state urban development department could be seen in the officers’ gallery. In fact, as per the legislative norms, any gallery — be it for officers, press or for the visitors – is never taken cognisance of, as it is not a part of the legislature. But, the house was adjourned for a few minutes on the issue.
According to officials, interruption of house proceedings over such a matter was unheard of in the long and cherished history of the state legislature.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY