As the dust settles around the 16th Lok Sabha, attention must now shift to the state assemblies, some of which have been newly constituted like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and the few that will go into elections in the next few months like Maharashtra and Haryana. There are 30 state legislative assemblies not including the newly formed state of Seemandhara. In our federal structure, laws framed by the state assemblies are no less important and deserve the same diligence and debate as laws made by Parliament. A brief look in to the performance of some of our state assemblies reveals that these institutions which form the cornerstones of our democracy need some serious attention. State Assemblies: business hours The current Haryana Legislative Assembly that comes to the end of its five year term in October this year has held 10 sessions since 2009 till March 2014, meeting for a total of 54 days – an average of 11 days per year. In comparison, the Lok Sabha sat for an average of 69 days each year from 2009 to 2014. Among state assemblies, only Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh sat for fewer days than Haryana. In the same period the Kerala Assembly sat for an average of 50 days per year, while Tamil Nadu Assembly sat for 44 days. In its previous term, the Gujarat Legislative Assembly sat for a total of 157 days – an average of 31 days each year. Similarly, the current Goa Legislative Assembly sat for 24 days in 2012 and for 39 days in 2013. Over the last 10 years, the Assembly sat for an average of 26 days a year. It recorded the highest number of sitting days in the last 10 years, at 39 days. Law making in the states In most states, Bills are passed with little or no discussion. Most Bills are introduced and passed on the last day of each session, which gives Members hardly any opportunity to examine or discuss legislation in detail. Unlike Parliament, where most Bills are referred to a department related standing committee which studies the Bill in greater detail, in most states such committees are non-existent. The exceptions are Kerala which has constituted subject committees for this purpose and states like Goa and Himachal Pradesh where Select Committees are constituted for important Bills. The current Haryana Assembly has passed 129 Bills, all of which were passed on the same day as they were introduced. Upto 23 Bills were passed on a single day, which left hardly any time for substantial discussion. In the twelfth Gujarat Assembly, over 90% of all Bills were passed on the same day as they were introduced. In the Budget Session of 2011, 31 Bills were passed of which 21 were introduced and passed within three sitting days. Of the 40 Bills passed by the Goa Assembly till May 2013, three Bills were referred to Select Committees. Excluding Appropriation Bills, the Assembly passed 32 Bills, which were taken up together for discussion and passing in five days. Almost all Bills were passed within three days of introduction. On average, each Bill was discussed for four minutes. In 2012, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly passed a total of 39 Bills, including Appropriation Bills. Most Bills were passed on the same day they were introduced in the Assembly. In 2011, a total of 23 Bills were passed. On average, five Members participated in the discussions on each Bill. In 2012, the Delhi Legislative Assembly passed 11 Bills. Only one of the 11 Bills was discussed for more than 10 minutes. The performance of the Chhattisgarh and Bihar Vidhan Sabhas follow the same pattern. Over the last few years, some assemblies such as Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana have taken some positive steps which include setting up subject committees and permitting live telecast of Assembly proceedings. Every legislator- in Parliament and the states - is accountable to his voter. Weak democratic institutions deprive legislators of their right to oversee the government as enshrined in the Constitution. Inadequate number of sitting days, lack of discussion on Bills, and passing of the Budget and demands for grants without discussion are symptoms of institutional ennui and do not do justice to the enormous import of these legislative bodies. Serious thought and public debate is needed to reinvigorate these ‘temples of democracy’ and provide elected representatives with the opportunity to exercise their right to legislative scrutiny, hold government to account, and represent their constituents.
The term of the 12th Haryana Legislative Assembly ends in October this year. We look at the work done by the 12th Haryana Assembly during its term from 2009 to 2014 to assess its performance on metrics such as the number of sittings, members’ attendance, and legislative business. Performance of the Assembly Since the beginning of its tenure, which commenced in October 2009, the Assembly has held ten sessions. Till March 2014, the Assembly had met for a total of 54 days – an average of 11 days per year. In comparison, the Lok Sabha sat for an average of 69 days each year from 2009 to 2014. Among state assemblies, only Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh sat for fewer days than Haryana. In the same period the Kerala Assembly sat for an average of 50 days per year , while Tamil Nadu Assembly sat for 44 days. The average attendance among Haryana MLAs stood at 89% for the whole term, with six members registering 100% attendance.
From the beginning of its term in 2009 till March 2014, the Assembly passed 129 Bills. All Bills were discussed and passed on the same day as they were introduced. None of the Bills were referred to any Committee. Participation in the general discussion on the Budget has recovered since 2012, when the Budget was discussed for around three hours with eight Members participating.. In 2013, discussion took place for eight hours and forty minutes with 31 members participating. In 2014, the Assembly discussed the Budget for four hours and fifty minutes with 21 Members participating.
Key laws passed by the 12th Assembly include the Haryana State Commission for Women Bill, the Haryana Prohibition of Ragging in Educational Institution Bill and the Punjab Agricultural Produces Markets (Haryana Amendment) Bill.
Elections to the 13th Legislative Assembly of Gujarat are scheduled to be held in two phases on the 13th and 17th of December. The BJP has been the dominant majority party in the Assembly since 1995. The 2002 elections saw the largest victory for the party, winning 127 seats. The Congress last held power in Gujarat in 1985. In the Assembly elections held for the the seventh Assembly, the Congress had a clear majority of 149 seats. In 1990, the Janata Dal emerged as the largest party with 70 seats. The BJP registered major gains in 1990, improving their tally of 11 seats in 1985 to 67 seats. The Congress came third with 33 seats. The electoral trends over the last 22 years may be viewed here. In the current Assembly, 117 of the 182 seats are held by the BJP. It is useful to look at the work done by the 12th Gujarat Assembly during its term from 2008 to 2012. Here we look at key metrics like the number of days the assembly was in session, members’ attendance, and legislative business. Performance of the Assembly During its five year term, the assembly sat for a total of 157 days – an average of 31 days each year. In comparison, the Lok Sabha sat for an average of 66 days each year during the period 2008 to 2011. In the same period the Kerala Assembly sat for an average of 50 days – highest among states - followed by Maharashtra (44). However, the Gujarat Assembly sat for more number of days than the Haryana Assembly which sat for an average of 13 days and Rajasthan (24). The average attendance among Gujarat MLAs stood at 83% for the whole term, with two members registering 100% attendance. 87 Bills were passed by the Assembly since the beginning of its term in 2008 till September 2011. Of these, 80 Bills i.e. over 90% of all Bills were passed on the same day as they were introduced. None of the Bills were referred to any Committee. In the Budget Session of 2011, 31 Bills were passed of which 21 were introduced and passed within three sitting days Amendments sought by the President and the Governor One of the significant laws passed by the 12th Assembly was the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill, 2003 which was introduced and passed in July 2009. However the Bill did not receive the Presidents Assent and was sent back to the Gujarat Assembly for amendments. In December 2009, the assembly passed the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill 2009 which sought to make voting compulsory in elections to local self-government bodies like municipal corporations and Panchayats. The Gujarat governor returned the Bill for reconsideration in 2010. It was re-introduced in the house in September 2010 without changes. Another Bill that was returned by the Governor was the Gujarat Regularisation of Unauthorised Development Bill which sought to regularise unauthorised construction on payment of an Impact Fee. The Bill was passed by the Assembly in March 2011. The Governor returned the Bill with a suggestion to include a provision to bar the regularisation of unauthorised construction beyond a specified date. The Bill was re-introduced and passed with amendments by the Assembly in September 2011.
Apropos Madhukar’s post on available information on the functioning of state legislatures, data on the number of days State Assemblies shows a mixed trend over the 2000 to 2010 period. However, most states uniformly under perform when it comes to number of days of sitting. (Spreadsheet with relevant data here) As with Parliament, state assemblies are convened at the will of the executive. In comparison to the Lok Sabha, the state assemblies perform miserably. In any given year, most state assemblies do not sit for even half the number of the days clocked by the Lok Sabha.
Parliament passes an average of 60 Bills a year. Each state legislature also passes a similar volume of legislation addressing an array of complex issues. Bills cover subjects ranging from microfinance, land acquisition, and honour killings to the impact of pesticides on health. Legislative matters have become increasingly more technical and require specialist inputs to be framed as effective public policy. Unlike other large democracies, legislators in India do not have access to institutional research support. Access to formal information channels is normally available only to the Minister drafting the bill or to the select committee if the bill is referred to it. This deprives MLAs from participating in a more informed debate. Towards this end, PRS and the Indian School of Business (ISB) have initiated the first policy workshop of its kind for MLAs in India. There is an emerging breed of proactive MLAs who are willing to seek out information to help them perform their role better. There are over 4000 MLAs in India, and a small group of MLAs in many states are showing this initiative. They use the internet, consult specialists, and use resources like PRS to get updated or further information on issues affecting their state. About the Workshop The India Leadership workshop is for MLAs who want to be more effective legislators and assume positions of greater influence in state and national policymaking. This unique workshop is for rising stars who want to imbibe new approaches to policymaking and build professional networks with MLAs from different states. The programme is led by distinguished faculty from internally reputed institutions including Harvard, IITs and IIMs. The three day workshop for progressive MLAs will be held at the campus of ISB in Hyderabad. Four such sessions will be held during the year, with the maiden edition being launched in January 2011. Over the last five years, PRS has worked with MPs across all political parties to brief them on relevant issues for their work in Parliament. MPs have recommended that MLAs also would benefit from similar research services. Ajit Rangnekar, Dean, Indian School of Business (ISB) says, “The ISB is committed to working with the Industry and the Government to help achieve national goals. We already have had a long track of engaging with public sector enterprises, and more recently with various government departments, in both executive education and research. We are now delighted to partner with the PRS Legislative Research to develop this programme targeted at capacity building among Indian Legislators. We believe that this ongoing interaction between the government and academia will strengthen our collective understanding of national priorities and spur collaboration for greater impact.”
Reuters news agency has reported that the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly has approved legislation to regulate the microfinance sector. The Assembly ratified an earlier ordinance curbing operations by MFI lenders. The ordinance took effect in October in response to news reports on suicides among borrowers. http://in.reuters.com/article/idINIndia-53571720101215
News agencies have reported that the newly elected NDA Government has decided in its cabinet meeting to scrap the existing allocation of funds for Local Area Development scheme for Bihar MLAs and MLCs. http://www.indianexpress.com/news/nitish-govt-to-scrap-fund-allocation-for-mlas-mlcs/723368/
At an event organised by the Hansard Society, a UK based political research and education charity, MPs spoke about what their role entails and the challenges the face in fulfilling their role. It is striking to note the similarity between what our Parliamentarians have to share about the challenges they face in their roles as representative of the people and what the UK MPs have shared.
- Management of their diary i.e. Time Management and prioritizing issues are important to the MP being able to do justice to his various roles
- The MPs stated that the constituency expects action from them on issues which fall within the purview of the local Government and should have been taken up with the councillor. These could be issues related to public works, schools and the like.
- Quite often the local councillor is unknown to the population and since the MP is easily recognizable, local issues are taken up with him. The MP is obliged to take up the issue because he cannot be seen to turn anyone away.
- People assume that if you are not seen on the streets you aren't doing your job. Therefore constituency visits are deemed important and end up taking quite a bit of time, which could have been otherwise devoted to legislative work.
- MPs with a thin majority tend to focus more on local issues for fear of not being able to retain their seat. They tend to try that much harder to address local issues, even with the knowledge that it is not their primary responsibility.
- Some MPs felt that the committee work should be of foremost priority instead of just an additional responsibility for the MP, as it is at the committee level that all aspects of the legislation can be examined and worked on in detail.
- MPs should be encouraged to specialize in subjects so that they develop their knowledge in there area of interest.
In general, there are three views the MP has to balance: The Party's, The Constituency's and his or her Personal views. For example the debate on Wind Farms for renewable energy which spoil the landscape, or immigration. These are subjects where the three views may be vary greatly from each other and the MP has to balance each of these. Ultimately, loyalty to party is a must, since the MP won on the party’s ticket, so the MP owes his/her allegiance to the Party and should endorse the Party’s views.
The Chief Minister of Kerala has made a statement in the Assembly this week agreeing to look into the demand to change the name of the state to Keralam to make it conform to the state's name as pronounced in Malayalam. A few major cities in Kerala have already been renamed in the recent past in an attempt to erase the Anglican influence in their naming. Another proposal to rename the state of Orissa to Odisha has recently been approved by the Union Cabinet. This is part of a trend that gained momentum after the renaming of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Bombay was renamed Mumbai - derived from name of Goddess Mumbadevi - in1995 when the Shiv Sena - BJP combine won the state Assembly elections. In the following year Madras was renamed to Chennai and in 2001 Calcutta was renamed Kolkata. The renaming of a state requires Parliamentary approval under Article 3 and 4 of the Constitution, and the President has to refer the same to the relevant state legislature for its views. However, the change in name of official language would require a constitutional amendment since it requires a change in the 8th schedule. In the case of Orissa, the state legislature has approved in August 2008, change to the name of Orissa to Odisha and the name of its official language from Oriya to Odia. The central cabinet approved the proposal, and 2 bills The Orissa (Alteration of name) Bill, 2010 and the Constitution (113th Amendment) Bill has been introduced in Parliament.