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Prasanna Mishra

Hon'ble Odisha Chief Minister finding time to be present in the Kalinga Stadium for the recently concluded Junior men’s Hockey World Cup Tournament but not able to attend the winter session of the Odisha Legislative Assembly raises important constitutional issues and merits a discussion.

Our Founding Fathers while framing the Constitution deliberated on the type of government India should have. It was noted that being a non-Parliamentary system, the Congress of the United States could not dismiss the Executive while in a Parliamentary system, and Government must resign the moment it lost the confidence of the majority of the members of Parliament. It was considered that a non- Parliamentary Executive being independent of Parliament tends to be less responsible to the Legislature, while a Parliamentary Executive being more dependent upon a majority in Parliament became more responsible. Under the non-Parliamentary system, the assessment of the responsibility of the Executive is periodic. It takes place once in four years in US by the Electorate. In England, the assessment of responsibility of the Executive is both daily and periodic. The Daily assessment of responsibility which is not available under the American system framers of the Constitution felt was far more effective than the periodic assessment and far more necessary in a country like India. Our Constitution adopted the Parliamentary system of Executive preferring more responsibility to more stability. Parliamentary system is the most basic structure of our Constitution.

The Leader of the House is a crucial player in the conduct of business in the legislature. He conducts meetings with leaders of various political parties to discuss with them the proposals and measures that the government is planning. He may request the members to offer suggestions so that he can give a final shape to the proposals of planned initiatives, before they are introduced in the House. He creates a feel-good ambiance in the House. In matters of urgency, he maintains liaison with other political parties and intervenes in discussion and restrains unusual behavior of Members. He is the most important link that smoothens the functioning of the Speaker. His presence of the House adds seriousness to deliberations and ensures attendance of maximum number of legislators in the House. His presence keeps the Ministers on alert.

If the Leader of the House becomes a habitual absentee from the House, the marginalisation of the House is complete. That is what unfortunately the state is witnessing now. Chief Minister has been keeping away from the Legislature for quite some time. In the best of times, his appearance on the floor of the House always added value to the system. But even then, in most cases, authorised Ministers replied to Questions addressed to him. It is strange that on many occasions, Questions addressed to him never come up for Answer because the Questioner remained absent. It is also being reported that the BSKY smart card distribution programmes by CM would be expedited with an aim to cover all districts before implementation of model code of conduct ahead of the panchayat polls. As per schedule, the Chief Minister is likely to launch smart cards in as many as 7 districts between December 12 and 15.

A brief mention of what happened during the current Session of the Assembly would help appreciate the extent of dent parliamentary system has suffered. Opposition refused to take part in the debate on the adjournment motion on the probe into the Mamita Meher murder case. Some legislators chose to do a ‘parikrama’ of the Assembly. BJP members beat gongs and cymbals as “an effort” to wake the sleeping Chief Minister and the Leader of the House. MLAs sprinkled holy water to purify the Assembly. The Speaker found the situation slipping out of hand. There were apprehensions that the Session would be cut short abruptly, and it eventually became true when Speaker adjourned the Assembly sine die on Friday, 20 days before its scheduled end on December 31.

Assembly sessions are getting shorter too frequently and has become a pattern by now. Sample this. The winter session in November 2020 scheduled to continue till end of December was abruptly adjourned sine die soon after the passage of the Appropriation Bill. The session lasted only for 10 days. Odisha Legislative Assembly should sit for a minimum of 60 days in a calendar year; however, since the present Chief Minister assumed office in 2000, the state legislature met for the mandatory 60 days only in three years-- 2006, 2010 and 2012. This situation, however, is not special to Naveen Patnaik regime. During previous regimes too, the legislature met for less than 60 days in many years. In fact, the 60-day stipulation was achieved only in nine years prior to 2000. The strength of Parliamentary system lies in its ability to ensure accountability of the executive on day-to-day basis. The shorter the duration the more remote is the accountability. Belief in Parliamentary system gets reflected in health and long sessions of legislature. While lack of Business is the justification given for shortening sessions, champions of Parliamentary system would welcome legislature having long sessions and meeting for critical business, like Question Hour, Zero Hour, Adjournment Motions, Special Mentions even if there is no legislative business to transact. Brief sessions provide scant time for discussion on Bills as well.

The present Government enjoys an overwhelming majority in the House. It is headed by a leader who is perceived to be popular. These advantages should have been leveraged to enrich parliamentary system rather than weaking it. Unfortunately, the state is witnessing wilting of the Legislature, the Temple of Democracy and the process is being hastened by the Chief Minister not attending the Assembly. This in effect is unfortunately compromising the basic structure of the Constitution. The Executive here, like the Executive in United States is focused on winning Election at the end of the term instead of proving daily accountability in the legislature of which it is a part. Does it not amount to distancing away from Parliamentary system which our Constitution stipulates?

(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 lonewalker.1942@gmail.com)

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