Blink and you miss it. So short were the just-concluded monsoon sessions of Punjab and Haryana Assemblies — barely three days each — that the whole exercise appeared perfunctory, if not futile. Most of the lawmakers seemed to be simply going through the motions. Such sessions are becoming increasingly frequent, while the discussions over key Bills are getting rarer. The abysmal scenario is laying bare the reluctance of ruling parties to face the Opposition on the one hand and the inadequacy of the latter’s efforts to corner the government on the other.
Though the Constitution does not mandate a minimum number of days for sittings of an Assembly, the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha stipulate that the total number of sittings in a financial year should not be less than 40. However, the Punjab Assembly’s yearly average of sittings has been below 20 over the past decade and a half. The 12th Haryana Assembly (2009-14) sat for only 50-odd days, ahead of only Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. In contrast, the upcoming monsoon session of the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha, to be held from August 19 to 31, will have as many as 11 sittings.
People expect their elected representatives to scrutinise proposed legislations and then engage in a constructive debate in the House before these are passed or referred to the committee concerned. However, the respective government has preferred to steamroll Bills, making the most of the disunity in the rival camp. On the final day of the Punjab Budget session in late-February this year, five major Bills were passed in half an hour with little or no discussion. A couple of days later, 18 Bills sailed through the Haryana Assembly in over two hours. Such haste shows these legislative bodies in a poor light. The legislators must put their foot down so that they get adequate time to highlight the problems of their constituents and the issues concerning the state. After all, an MLA (or MP) is accountable to his or her voters, both inside and outside the ‘temples of democracy’.