State legislatures must ensure longer and more productive sessions

It has often been suggested that perks and privileges be tied to work as in the corporate sector. This may help things but it would also help if parties also put pressure on their MLAs to do their job if for nothing but to increase the prospects of re-election

Updated: Nov 15, 2018 19:13:41

Hindustan Times

According to a study, MLAs work an average of 28 days in a year. Topping the list of those at the bottom of the heap are Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Haryana. This is in sharp contrast to Lok Sabha MPs who notch up at least 70 days a year (Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

The lives of elected representatives in India are not always their own. They have to cater to the needs of law-making, their parties and their constituents. But on the first count, lawmakers in the states fall short according to a new PRS legislative research study, which shows that MLAs in India work an average of 28 days in a year (based on average number of days for which assemblies sat between 2011 and 2016).

At the bottom of the heap are lawmakers from Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Haryana. This is in sharp contrast to Lok Sabha members of Parliament, who notch up at least 70 days a year in the house(again based on data between 2011 and 2016), apart from the time they spend in their constituencies or working for their parties. Whichever way you look at it, 28 is an abysmal statistic.

Still, this is a reflection of how states are increasingly run these days and how the authority of state legislatures has been eroded over the years. The process of lawmaking is broken. Some assemblies have witnessed ugly scenes, even slugfests. Indeed, there is little debate and discussion in many state assemblies. Bills are passed in haste, often without the consideration and discussion that is their due.

The states which feature at the bottom of the list have huge socio-economic problems, from drought to infant- and maternal-mortality to agrarian distress. That means there’s a lot of work to be done, in the field, of course, but also in the legislatures.

Some of this may also have to do with how states are increasingly run in India. Many are run like companies with chief ministers modelling themselves after and functioning like all-powerful CEOs, helped by trusted bureaucrats who are similar to the senior management of a corporation. It is a rare state where the voting public can identify the finance minister, say, or the industries minister. Many chief ministers keep several portfolios with themselves and, with the help of trusted bureaucrats, usually bypassing legislative discussion and debate. Odisha under Naveen Patnaik and Andhra Pradesh under N Chandrababu Naidu are classic examples of this. Tamil Nadu under the late J Jayalalithaa worked similarly as did Gujarat when Narendra Modi was its chief minister. While this may convey an impression of efficiency (and sometimes also delivers the desired results), it negates the democratic process, which may be more cumbersome.

State governments must ensure that they have sessions of at least moderate duration (as opposed to the very short ones some now do), perhaps even insist on at least minimum attendance by their representatives.

First Published: Nov 15, 2018 19:10:59


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