We were already aware that the winter session of the State Legislative Assembly was going to be short, it is now confirmed that for the second year running the State Budget will not be entirely presented in the House but the papers tabled and a vote on account taken to keep the wheels of government turning for the first five months of the financial year beginning from April 1, 2019. The Budget is one government Bill that is eagerly awaited every year by the people to know just how much more they will have to spend on purchases, or on what items they can save. Not having a full-fledged Budget, takes away from them this important family financial planning based on new taxation.
Following the meeting of the Business Advisory Committee, on day 1 of the winter session the Governor will address the members, on day 2 the Budget will be tabled and on day 3 a vote on account held to sustain the government’s finances for the first five months. This is quite a detour from normal practice, as the winter session of the Goa Legislative Assembly has been usually held in December or early January, and then there would be another sitting of the House for the Budge session, during which the financial statement is tabled, the government’s policies and plans for the 12 months ahead are enlisted, and the House would then debate the Budget and either pass it or take a vote on account and the full Budget would be debated at length during the monsoon session.
Last year a curtailed Budget session was held in February, and unlike earlier years the Budget was tabled without being read in detail, and a vote on account taken. The grants for the various departments were discussed and debated during the monsoon session.
It does appear that there is going to be a repeat of the same this year, and so we can anticipate that last year was not an aberration but could actually have set a precedent in the democratic functioning of the State. For, when at the Business Advisory Committee meeting, held to discuss the business of the House that will be meeting from January 20 to 31, Leader of the Opposition Chandrakant Kavlekar asked that the winter session be extended to a minimum of 10 days, he failed to get an assurance on this. There is, however, some hope that the latter session may be longer, as member of the BAC sought that the monsoon session of the Assembly should be not less than 21 days, and there was an assurance of an extended sitting.
Short sessions of the Legislative Assembly affect democratic practices and traditions. It is pertinent here that Deputy Speaker Michael Lobo has himself come on record to say that in a short session, the quality of debate suffers, as every member of the Assembly wants to be heard, but each gets just four or five minutes to speak, which is not sufficient time. He also pointed out that besides the discussions, there are various amendments to Acts that need to be taken up, bills to be tabled, discussed and passed, and resolutions to be tabled. There are also questions that the MLAs are authorised to raise in the House and get answers and assurances from the government.
Herald, through these columns has made a similar observation, seeking that the Legislative Assembly meet for longer periods, so that there can be proper debate on issues affecting the State. Instead we are having a session this month-end only to meet the Constitution requirement of not having a gap of more than six months between two sessions of the Legislature. While this meets the legal requirement, it demoralises the electorate and weakens the democratic structure. The elected representatives should instead have been working to strengthen democratic institutions.