The admission that the next Assembly session that will be held from January 29, 2019 will be a short session is an indication that the government wants to hold it merely to meet the Constitutional requirement of not having a gap of more than six months between two sessions. The Goa Legislative Assembly has to meet before February 2, 2019 and the end of January date meets this condition. This year, 2018, we have had just 16 sittings of the Assembly in two sessions, the first one in February that was the Budget session, curtailed to four days due to the sudden illness of the Chief Minister. The second in July-August had 12 sittings, and saw the Budget, that had been tabled in the previous session, passed. The winter session, usually held in December, but not as a rule did not happen.
Democracy is not about meeting the minimum requirement of Assembly sittings as mandated by the Indian Constitution. Assembly sittings are meant for the elected representatives to raise issues of the people who voted them to the House. The sittings are meant for debate, where the government presents its plans to the House and the opposition in allowed to raise issues pertaining to the policies and bills and these are then discussed and voted upon, and where the government makes certain assurances. This is what is supposed to happen, but what is happening in Goa is different and is setting a precedent that is thoroughly unhealthy for a democracy.
The Legislative Assembly is the voice of the people and it is unfair to the electorate if their representatives are not allowed to raise the issues of their constituents in the Assembly. In a manner of speaking this is in effect a manner of silencing the voice of the people.
A week ago, Herald had spoken to political commentators on the subject of the reduced Assembly sittings in Goa and they had predicted that to meet the requirements of the law, an Assembly session will be called in January, which if it doesn’t happen would lead to a constitutional breakdown and even the dismissal of the government. That constitutional mandate, it now appears will be met, but it falls way short of meeting democratic principles and practices. A short session where the Budget will be presented and a vote on account taken to keep the wheels of government in motion, is hardly an exemplary democratic practice.
Which gives rise to a very pertinent question of whether there is need to bring in a Constitutional amendment that will affix a minimum number of days that the Assembly will meet. The current Goa Assembly is but one example of how little time legislators spend in a Legislative Assembly. There are various other Legislatures that have also met just a few times during the year. According to available data on the internet, in 2017 the Kerala Assembly had 151 sittings a very high number, while on the other hand the Uttar Pradesh Assembly met just for 17 days, Delhi for 21 days and Rajasthan for 25 days.
The Constitution is clear about the time lapse between two sessions, and this is being used by some legislatures, as seen in the past, to have just two sessions in a year. The Constitution is silent on the number of days that it has to meet, and this is what may require an amendment. If a Legislature has to have time to debate Bills, then the number of days that it sits has to be increased, failing which business remains unfinished, democracy takes a beating and the people’s voice is silenced.