Explaining what minimum government and maximum governance mean, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an interview had candidly said that the country is yet to appreciate its real meaning. Giving an example, he had said, "Earlier my Cabinet note would take six months to reach the entire Cabinet. But now it takes only 15 days. This is what minimum government and maximum governance is. Same number of people but the result is more."
With Odisha Assembly sessions getting shorter, it is leading to a public perception that the Temple of Democracy is increasingly losing its shine. The 33-day winter session of Odisha Assembly was scheduled to continue till December 31, 2022. The House, however, functioned for eight working days instead of 33. The first supplementary introduced in the House on November 24 was passed on November 30. The session had many issues to handle including plight of farmers, the problems of school teachers, black-marketing of fertilizers, etc. Several ministers were away from the Session. The Assembly was adjourned sine die on the first day of December. This isn’t the first occasion when the session of the Odisha Assembly has been closed much earlier than the scheduled date.
In 2021, Odisha Assembly met for only 43 days. Between 2016 and 2021, the average number of days it met in a year was 42. Odisha has prescribed the minimum number of sitting days at 60. The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) had suggested that state legislatures with less than 70 members should meet for at least 50 days a year, while the rest should meet for at least 90 days. Of course many state legislatures have been meeting for much lesser days in a year. For example between 2016 and 2021, 23 state legislatures met for an average of 25 days with Tripura Assembly meeting for 11 days, Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand for 14 days and Delhi for 16 days.
Instead of drawing satisfaction for the comparatively higher number of days Odisha legislature has been in session, more important issue is to critically examine if the legislature of a state with over 45 million people with myriads of issues ranging from acute poverty to distressed induced migration of people, from low agriculture productivity to unsatisfactory harnessing of its abundant water resources, from poor railway network to widespread corruption, should not discharge its constitutional responsibility to ensure high quality governance by the executive that is mandated to be accountable to it. In 2021, Odisha legislature passed 20 Bills while state legislatures of India passed an average of 21 Bills. The highest number of Bills, 48, was passed by Karnataka while lowest number of Bills, only 2, was passed by Delhi, followed by Puducherry (3) and Mizoram (5). Lack of business is often cited as the reason for curtailing the duration of Assembly sessions.
In the Parliamentary system of governance that we are governed by, the legislature must act to enforce accountability of the executive to make governance responsible and people friendly. A feeble legislature would give scope for an authoritarian executive which would amount to change of the basic structure of the constitution framework. It is likely that a session could have a modest agenda for new legislations; but the legislature need not cut short its sitting days for this reason. It must revisit the Rules and Procedures and bring in desirable modifications to keep Assembly running, and effectively for a reasonably long period in a year. Question Hour could be made longer, greater use of Zero Hours, Call Attention motions and privilege motions would add greater purpose to the Temple of Democracy.
It would not be proper to derive consolation that the situation in most other states is much worse. Odisha needs to take the lead and increase the number of sitting days to at least 100 through legislation. It needs to amend the Rules and Procedure to make greater use of the Zero Hours, Call Attention, and Question Hours. Bills need to be discussed in greater details; more recourse to Subject Committees would ensure quality evaluation of the Bills. Passage of Bills must not be rushed through.
Also Read: Pay Hike on Cards for Odisha MLAs
As things stand, any move to increase the salary and allowances of Legislators would not be taken kindly by the people. “Why should a Legislator get a highly liberal remuneration package when the Assembly sits for only 40 days in a year?” is a very valid reaction of a tax payer. The proper way would be to ensure that our Assembly performs at a much higher level of productivity and our legislators get paid adequately. That would be in tune with the principle of 'Minimum Government and Maximum Governance'.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at email@example.com)