Is a stalled budget session to blame for policymakers’ apathy in Uttarakhand?

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The budget session of the Uttarakhand Assembly, which ended on Thursday after only four days, exposed the legislators’ unwillingness and lack of constitutional awareness. The session was originally scheduled for six days but was reduced to four. Neither the Treasury benches nor the opposition appeared to be interested in running the session. During the budget session, 12 bills and one ordinance, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examinations (measures to control and prevent unfair recruitment practises), were introduced in the house. However, all of the bills were passed without debate during the session. Similarly, the departmental budgets were passed without debate because no cut motions were proposed by opposition members.It has become a practice that the opposition members stage a walk out on some issue and the budget is passed without any discussion.

It is worth noting here that the rules of procedure and conduct of business in the Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly require at least 60 legislative sittings per year. However, in Uttarakhand, only 15 to 18 sittings are held per year, which is less than one-third of the minimum required sittings. The rules, however, give the Assembly speaker overriding authority over the house’s operation. Similarly, the business advisory committee (BAC) determines the duration and operation of the house, and these two factors have diluted the 60-day mandate.

The government decides on the house’s business, and in Uttarakhand, successive governments have failed to ensure enough business for the house over the years.

Yashpal Arya, the leader of the opposition (LoP), stated that the State government is not interested in running the assembly and is not prepared for debate in the house. He claimed that only two days’ worth of business was decided at the BAC meeting, and that on 14 March, all Congress MLAs were suspended, preventing any Congress member from attending the BAC meeting that day. He also stated that the previous session was shortened and ended in only two days rather than the five days originally planned.

Munna Singh Chauhan, BJP MLA from Vikasnagar, stated that quality debates should be held in the Assembly because a large amount of money is spent on the proceedings. He did, however, add that constructive debates in the House should be held in order for the administration to receive feedback on government programmes.

According to constitutional expert Jagdish Chandra, while there is a mandate for at least 60 Assembly sittings per year, the house is the master of its own business. He stated that the budget session is the most important session of the Assembly because it allows members to express their views during the vote of thanks on the governor’s address and debates on budget cut motions, in addition to question hour. Chandra stated that assembly debates are necessary to strengthen democracy.

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