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Covid 19 impact on the functioning of State Legislatures

Covid 19 impact on the functioning of State Legislatures

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  • GS 2 || Polity || State Government || State Legislature

Why in the news?

  • PRS Legislative Research’s “Annual review of state laws 2020” shows that the productivity and efficacy of State legislatures are poor.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown had a huge impact on the working of the state legislatures in India.

Annual Review of State Laws

  • This report focuses on state legislative activity in the calendar year 2020.
  • It is based on information gathered from state legislature websites and state gazettes.
  • It encompasses 19 state legislatures.

Background

  • The Constitution of India provides for a legislature in each State and entrusts it with the responsibility to make laws for the state.  They make laws related to subjects in the State List and the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.
  • These include subjects such as agriculture, health, education, and police. At present, there are 30 state legislatures in the country, including in the two union territories of Delhi and Puducherry.
  • State legislatures also determine the allocation of resources through their budgetary process.     They collectively spend about 70% more than the centre.

Highlights of the report

  • Sittings of states
    • Karnataka(31 days)-In comparison to its average number of sitting days of 32 from 2016 to 2019, the bicameral Karnataka legislature met on 31 days last year, the most for any State in 2020.
    • Rajasthan (29 days) and Himachal Pradesh (25 days) followed the southern state.
    • In comparison, last year, Parliament met for 33 days.
    • Kerala(20 days)-which had the distinction of remaining at the top of the four-year average of 53 days, had only 20 days of legislative sittings last year.
    • The average number of sitting days for the 19 states in 2020 was 18.
  • Number of bills
    • Karnataka(61)-In terms of the number of Bills passed last year, Karnataka topped the list once again with 61.
    • Tamil Nadu (42) 
    • Uttar Pradesh (37)
      • Appropriation Bills were excluded for this purpose.
    • Delhi (01) was the worst performer in this category, passing only one bill;
    • West Bengal(02) passed two bills; and
    • Kerala(03)  passed three bills.

  • The time it took to pass bills
  • In terms of the time it takes to pass bills, the previous year saw 59 percent of bills being passed by state legislatures on the day they were introduced.
  • A further 14% was adopted within a day of its introduction.
  • Only 9% of the Bills were passed more than five days after they were introduced, with some being referred to committees for further review.
  • Enacted legislations
  • After a Bill has been passed by the legislature, it has to receive the assent of the Governor (or the President) to become an Act.
  • Therefore, all Bills passed in a year may not become laws the same year.
    • For example, of the 41 laws enacted in Andhra Pradesh in 2020, 16 had been passed by the legislature in 2019.
  • Karnataka(55 ) has enacted the highest number of laws (55), followed by Andhra Pradesh (41).
  • West Bengal(01) has enacted one law.
  • Kerala, which had enacted a yearly average of 23 laws in the preceding three years, used the Ordinance route for making laws and only enacted three laws last year.
  • In 2020, states on average have enacted 20 laws (excluding appropriation laws).
  • Promulgation of Ordinances
  • When the legislature is not in session and immediate action is required, then the government can make a law, called an Ordinance.
  • Ordinances are in force until six weeks after the next meeting of the legislature (unless they are repealed), after which they lapse.
  •  Data from 19 states show that, on average, they issued 14 Ordinances over the last year.
  • Kerala(81)- Kerala promulgated 81 Ordinances.
    • Nearly half of these 81 Ordinances were re-promulgated, i.e., the same Ordinance was issued again after an intervening session.
  • Legislation by subjects
    • State legislatures make laws on subjects in the State List, and the Concurrent List.
    • These include subjects such as agriculture, health, law and order, education, and labour.  
    • They also pass laws to approve the state government’s expenditure and tax proposals.
    • In 2020, apart from the budget (14%) and taxation (15%).
    • The majority of the laws enacted by states were in the areas of education (12%)
      • Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh (seven each), and Andhra Pradesh (six) have enacted the highest number of laws related to education.
    • local government (10%), and
    • agriculture and allied activities (6%).

Why is it a matter of concern?

  • Scrutiny: Continuous and close scrutiny by legislatures is central to improving governance in the country.
  • Voice to public opinion:Legislatures are arenas for debate and giving voice to public opinion.
  • Accountability institutions:As accountability institutions, they are responsible for asking tough questions of the government and highlighting uncomfortable truths. So, it is in the interest of a state government to convene lesser sittings of the legislature and bypass their scrutiny.
  • Prevent ordinance: Lesser number of sitting days also means that state governments are free to make laws through ordinances. And when they convene legislatures, there is little time for MLAs to scrutinize laws brought before them.

Issues in Functioning of the  state legislatures

  • Less number of sittings:State legislatures and parliament has 3 sessions in a year and the number of sittings and MPs attending these sittings have been less which affects the functioning of parliament as a deliberative body.
  • Why sittings are reducing day by day?
    • One institutional reason given for this is the reduction in the workload of Parliament and state legislatures by its Standing Committees, which, since the 1990s, have anchored debates outside the House.
    • However, several Committees have recommended that Parliament should meet for at least 120 days a year.
  • Over the years, governments have shuffled around the dates of sessions to accommodate political and legislative exigencies.
  • Sessions have also been cut short or delayed to allow the government to issue Ordinances.
  • Ordinance Promulgation:Frequent ordinance promulgation has diluted legislatures law-making powers with the executive taking this route many times to circumvent the normal legislative process and authority of state legislature.
  • Lack of Technical Expertise:Members of  legislatures are not technically adept to evaluate, form opinions and vote on financial matters such as demand for grants
  • Growth of Delegated Legislation:Armed executive with legislatures law-making powers.
  • Lack of Strong Opposition to question, put pressure and evaluate the effectiveness of policies and decisions.
  • Anti-Defection Laws: Members are forced to align with their party’s views on all issues raised in the parliament due to the anti-defection law which shall disqualify them in cases otherwise.
  • This scuttles the scope for meaningful debate, deliberation and criticism of the government in the parliament as legislators have no freedom to exercise individual judgement
  • Growing Absentees in Parliament
  • Partisan Role of Speaker in allocating time, the decision on money bill and facilitating discussions
  • Low Productivity of Parliament
  • Over the years, there has been a significant reduction in the productivity of parliament manifested by the reduced number of bills passed and poor quality of debates and discussions. Data from the past two years reveal a meagre 15% of the time on average spent on legislations.

Low Productivity

  • Partisan Politics: The deliberative discussions in parliament have largely centred around political motives and partisan opinions that have hindered true intellectual discourse to take place within its walls
  • Poor Quality of Members: The members of the parliament of today in comparison to the parliament of the 1950s are much lower in quality of human resource, knowledge and skill
  • Poor Compliance to legislatures Ethics: Indian parliament and legislatures has become infamous in the recent past owing to the unruly behaviour of its members seen rushing to the well, shouting and causing damage to physical infrastructure.
  • Ineffective control of presiding officers
  • Frequent Adjournments reducing the time for productive debates and discussion on legislation.

Consequences

  • Legislative Compromise: Hastily passed bills and budgets compromise on efficacy, financial prudence and propriety of decisions taken
  • Accountability Erosion: A poorly productive parliament threatens to erode the control of the legislature on the executive. This may lead to executive tyranny and despotism through the dictatorship of the cabinet undermining the separation of powers.

Why is it a matter of concern?

  • Scrutiny: Continuous and close scrutiny by legislatures is central to improving governance in the country.
  • Voice to public opinion:Legislatures are arenas for debate and giving voice to public opinion.
  • Accountability institutions: As accountability institutions, they are responsible for asking tough questions of the government and highlighting uncomfortable truths.
  • So, it is in the interest of a state government to convene lesser sittings of the legislature and bypass their scrutiny.
  • Prevent ordinance: Lesser number of sitting days also means that state governments are free to make laws through ordinances. And when they convene legislatures, there is little time for MLAs to scrutinize laws brought before them.

Way forward

  • Convening legislatures to meet all around the year.
  • In many mature democracies, a fixed calendar of sittings of legislatures, with breaks in between, is announced at the beginning of the year.
  • It allows the government to plan its calendar for bringing in new laws.
  • It also has the advantage of increasing the time for debate and discussion in the legislative assembly.
  • And with the legislature sitting throughout the year, it gets rid of the politics surrounding the convening of sessions of a legislature.
  • Minimum Mandatory Attendance: A minimum percentage of attendance shall be made mandatory for those holding seats in the legislatures.
  • Make attendance mandatory and link it to membership of the committee.
  • Setting Time aside for Opposition
  • India can emulate Britain and Canada in setting aside more than 20 days for the opposition to raise their issues.
  • This can also provide opportunities for smaller political parties to play an important role in setting the agenda.
  • Cooperative Functioning: The state government needs to take greater responsibility to ensure the smooth functioning of state legislatures. At the same time, the opposition should use the platform responsibly for constructive criticism. 
  • All party conferences can help the foster parliamentary spirit.
  • Workshops for MLAs: MLA’s shall be trained to overcome the poor quality of discussions and conduct rules enforced.

Conclusion

  • The institution of parliament and state legislatures are the temples of Indian democracy that represents the sovereign will of the people. India’s political parties need to leave out partisan politics and put the nation and its people at the forefront to ensure that this 70-year-old temple of democracy retains its purity and sanctity.
  • Continuous and close scrutiny by legislatures is central to improving governance in the country. Increasing the number of working days for state legislatures is a first step in increasing their effectiveness.

Mains model  Question

  • What do you understand by ‘ the terms federalism and quasi-federalism’? Do you think the quasi-federal character of India has allowed it to manage a disaster like Covid-19 more efficiently?

References