India, as a country, seems to have come a long way with several debatable initiatives by the Government and a lot more social and political awareness in the youth of today. As we navigate through media reports and op-eds with all eyes on the affairs of the Parliament in Delhi, the Legislative Assemblies and their role in making the nation actualise into the idea of India that is laid down by the Constitution has often been overlooked. Let’s dial back a little, what are the State Legislative Assemblies and why are they important?
What is the Legislative Assembly?
In simple words, the legislative assembly is where representatives of the people from a State come together to deliberate upon policies which are targeted to achieve the desired goal for the benefit of the State and pass laws for implementing justice in the State. All States and Union Territories of India have varied contexts and therefore need tailored discussions and a healthy leadership which takes the State forward. It is in light of these that the Legislative Assembly plays a crucial role in ensuring that together, as a nation, we truly move towards our goal of development. But,
Are the MLAs in our nation truly standing on the promises they had once made before the elections?
A recent research to probe into the working days of the Legislative Assembly across States produced a rather disappointing result. The table shared below shows the number of days these Assemblies worked for from 2017 – 19.
(Information collected from individual state legislative assembly websites)
The working days were uncomfortably low across the States and one is essentially left with the question, in an era of information available at the touch of fingertips and wars raging on twitter about the governance in our country, how is it that the Legislative Assemblies managed to go completely unnoticed?
Well, Article 174(1) of the Indian Constitution reads: “The governor shall from time to time summon the house or each house of the legislature of the state to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit, but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.”
This exactly has been the excuse used time and again to justify the abysmal working days of the Legislative Assemblies along with the fact that there is absolutely no policy which mandates a minimum number of working days for Legislative Assemblies. In Government, where everything pretty much has a cut-off, there seems to be absolutely nothing mentioned in the Constitution about the minimum number of working days for Legislative Assembly.
What was even more surprising is that even for the number of working days available, very few Legislative Assemblies like Delhi, Telangana and Bihar had the recording of the sessions available for the citizens. To dive further into the functioning of Legislative Assembly, I started looking for more indicators like the Attendance of the MLAs in sessions, the availability of transcripts for the sessions in local language for the common men, or just having recordings available for viewing. The table below reflects my findings so far for the States I looked into.
|State||Attendance||Live Recordings/ Webcast available?||Assembly documents available in local language?|
|Himachal Pradesh||Unavailable||Only Question Hour available||Available|
|Andhra Pradesh||Data Available till 13th
(All data has been taken from the website of respective State Legislative Assemblies, the attendance data for Delhi and Maharashtra is from 2018 and was taken from reports by Praja Foundation while the attendance data for Mizoram is from 2018 and was taken from a report by Association for Democratic Reforms)
It was surprising to find absolutely no mention of attendance in the official websites of any of the State Assemblies. One might wonder how are our MLAs leading such a comfortable work-life and why has there been no account of their presence or participation in sessions to the public? Constitutional provisions relating to the attendance finds mention in Article 190 (4): If for a period of sixty days a member of House of the Legislature of a State without permission of the House absent from all meetings thereof, the House may declare his seat vacant; Provided that in computing the said period of sixty days no account shall be taken of any period during which the House is prorogued or is adjourned for more than four consecutive days. Please note, the House ‘may’ and not ‘shall’ declare his seat vacant.
The loopholes again play right into the hands of those who misuse it and that has been the case for most of our representatives. One might argue that why should we worry so much about the working days of our Legislative Assemblies or why should we worry about the attendance of MLAs? We should, in fact, we must. While it is true that working days alone are not an indicator of good governance, it is important to remember why the Assembly exists and why we voted during the elections. It was for one prime reason; to have the best interest of the State in mind and to have our representatives debate policies and laws and evaluate them before reaching a conclusion. Creating a flawless law may be impossible, but it cannot be denied that good laws are made through debates and discussions. A while back I had a conversation with a colleague and I asked him if working days are so irrelevant then where does the debate and discussion takes place? He took a second to respond “On Twitter”.
Apart from that, the lack of availability of live recordings of sessions or transcripts of the session in local language curtails the ability of the common people to get information from reliable sources on topics that are very relevant to them. Often, the media reports have been called an eschewed version of the reality, but what other options does a resident of a state have for getting information if the government website refrains from sharing the relevant details? It is always in the best interest of the state to have its residents invested in their growth.
What can be done?
We are the world’s largest democracy and for us to just be functional doesn’t seem enough. What are we doing to move towards growth? Dissent has often been seen in poor light in our country’s recent past. However, it is a fundamental part of a democracy and therefore we must rise and question our leaders and also help them by suggesting solutions to the flaws we currently see in our system. We need authority and accountability to form a structure of good governance and here are a few ways state assemblies and citizens can do that:
- Have a survey done by an external organisation to understand the reason why the working days are kept at a minimum and why do MLAs feel inclined to miss
- There needs to be a formal report card on MLAs of each constituency every year based on suitable criteria by an external agency. A job without accountability does no good to anyone and it’s about time we evaluate the performance of our representatives beyond the charged speeches before
- Websites need to be bilingual and relevant recordings of all sessions and transcripts must be uploaded for the viewing of
- Public participation must be encouraged in the process of policy-making.
- Lastly, the attendance of MLAs must be shared in the official website of the Legislative Assembly to bring in
Read more: Judicial Memorandum