AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu has suggested round-the-year sessions of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha for more responsive functioning of the state government, including bureaucracy as well as MLAs, towards their respective constituencies.
In a three-page letter to the Punjab Vidhan Sabha Speaker, Rana K P Singh, Kharar MLA Kanwar Sandhu has suggested 12 sessions in a year – one session every month with five sittings. This would mean a total of 60 sittings in a year. Sandhu also suggested amending Rule 14-A of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business Rules, which now allows three sessions in a year and the total number of sittings in all the three sessions put together to be not less than 40.
“This rule which is being violated with impunity, should be amended to provide for 12 sessions in a financial year, with every session to have not less than five sittings,” he added. A copy of the letter has been marked to Brahm Mohindra, Punjab’s Minister for Parliamentary Affairs.
Sandhu said that monthly sessions of the Vidhan Sabha will ensure that the whole state government machinery remains on toes and there is regular accountability of not only MLAs but also government officers. This will also ensure that the peoples’ problems, reflected by their respective MLAs in the form of questions raised during Question Hour, get answered on a regular basis.
Now since the House meets after three or four months, the questions tend to pile up (between 500 to 1000 for every Session) with less than 20 per cent of the cases taken up during a session. Holding a Session every month would bring about a responsive Government, he said.
The MLA pointed out that during the current Budget Session, the Government was cornered by its own MLAs and those of the opposition, forcing it to concede to a Rs 52 Crore-loan waiver for SC/BCs on Thursday after the demand was raised in the Vidhan Sabha. As a result, loans of up to Rs 50,000 taken from the two public sector undertakings by more than 15,000 beneficiaries were waived off.
The government was also forced to release the pension and shagan scheme dues to the tune of Rs 1,220 crore Wednesday following heated exchanges in the House on social security schemes earlier. Had it not been for the discussion in the House, these would have remained pending, as they had been for months, he added.
The letter states that the House sittings every month would also raise the level of debate, with MLAs being forced to take up issues of their constituencies. As of now, bereft of any significant legislative role, the principal avocation of MLAs is to attend bhogs and functions in their areas. “While this is an excellent exercise in social outreach, you will agree that this is not what MLAs ought to be paid for,” he said.
Sandhu also said that to ensure greater transparency in legislative and administrative functioning, all meetings of various committees of the Vidhan Sabha should be open to the press. As Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for the year 2017-18, he felt that the inability of the committee to clear the backlog of audit objections of the CAG was primarily due to an unresponsive bureaucracy. Citing an example of the Excise and Taxation Department, he said nearly 184 audit paras (objections) of the CAG relating to the department were awaiting disposal since 2010. Despite repeated reminders, the department has not bothered to send the replies over the years. “Had the members of the press been present in the meetings, officers adopting such a lackadaisical attitude would perhaps have been castigated in media coverage,” he added.
Referring to the increasing tendency by members to resort to frequent walkouts, shouting and crosstalk in order to grab media headlines, Sandhu suggested that rules be amended to prescribe that if MLAs walk out, sit in the well of the House on a particular day or defy the Chair frequently, they be marked absent for that day.
The Kharar MLA also said that members of the Opposition often allege partiality by the Speaker during the Sessions. “Though this fear may be misplaced but to get over this problem and in order to ensure absolute impartiality of the Chair, I would like to suggest that since the Speaker is selected from among the ruling party, the Deputy Speaker should be from among the opposition. It should also be provided that at least 30 per cent of the proceedings of the House are conducted with Deputy Speaker in the Chair,” Sandhu has suggested.
Kanwar Sandhu has demanded that these suggestions be put up for discussion in the House during the current Budget session in public interest.