The number of state assembly sittings in India in recent times is abysmally low. Given below is a table summarising the total number of days various state assemblies met in 2016 and 2017.
While some states are doing relatively better, such as Kerala, which met for 151 days (across five sessions) in 2017, states such as Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi met for only 33, 40, 17 and 21, respectively in 2017.
|No. of days of assembly sittings in 2017*||No. of days of assembly sittings in 2016*||No. of days of assembly sittings in 2015*|
(*Information collected from individual state legislative assembly websites,
** Information of third session in 2016 is missing on the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly website)
A quick comparison with Lok Sabha meetings held in a year creates the illusion of the Centre being the only legislative body that matters. However, this does not hold true in light of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian constitution, which lists 66 subjects under the State List, where only the state assemblies can exercise their legislative power, along with deliberating and passing of the state Budget.
Then how are the state assemblies getting away with this tardiness?
The very way assemblies are getting away with this lies in Article 174(1) of the Indian constitution, which 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 mandate of the constitution seems to have been misused by many states, which legally allows them to meet for as few as two sessions in a year. What is more misused is what the constitution does not mention: the minimum number of days that state assemblies must meet for in a year. Hence, we have witnessed many assembly sessions lasting for only one to two days.
What also allows the state assemblies and ittheirs members so much leeway is the fact that legislative debates in the state assemblies are difficult to access, unlike at the Centre. This results in lesser engagement of citizens with general policy-making at the state level. With such opacity, a citizen can’t hold government departments, ministers or MLAs accountable for their work and promises made on the floor of the assembly.
While some states such as Karnataka, Delhi and Rajasthan host the texts of legislative debates on their assembly websites, many such as Gujarat and West Bengal don’t. To an RTI filed on January 4, 2018, the public information officer of the Gujarat Legislature Secretariat responded saying:
“There are no plans in near future of uploading debates of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly proceedings on website”.
Another RTI query on any plans for live telecast of the same was responded as thus:
“There are no plans in near future of live telecast of Gujarat Legislative Assembly proceedings”.
Often, one has to make several visits to a legislative assembly library to seek information on debates and questions in the assembly. Such information should ideally be found in the the public domain, as mandated by Section 4 (1) (b) of RTI Act, 2005 on proactive public disclosure of government documents.
While that was all about what’s not right with our state assemblies, the state governments need to seriously look into how to make state assemblies more transparent and effective. Here are a few of solutions, that should be deliberated upon by governments and citizens alike:
- Live telecast all proceedings of all state assemblies: Lack of accountability to citizens emanates from the high degree of opacity of proceedings of state assemblies. Live telecast of proceedings will ensure their performance is monitored by citizens in real time, thereby improving the quality of legislation and debates on matters of public importance. With so much importance given to e-governance by the incumbent government at the Centre, one wonders how live telecasting of assembly proceedings has not become a norm already.
- Citizens should collectively demand mandatory disclosure of the text of legislative debates and questions on assembly websites by all states under the RTI Act, 2005.
- A constitutional amendment: To fix the minimum number of days assemblies must sit (in days) in a year.
- Bilingual websites and documents: All government resolutions at the state-level, including assembly websites, should be translated into English and be available along with the vernacular language of the state, to ensure more readability and hence more civic and media engagement with state policies and actions.
- Involvement of various stakeholders and beneficiaries during the drafting of state laws: Unlike the Centre, where draft bills are often shared by ministries for public comments, the process of conceiving, deliberating and passing of state laws is rather obscure. All states must practice inclusive policy-making.
Nidhi Tambi is a public policy enthusiast and a former LAMP fellow.