States and State Legislatures

PRS workshop for engaging MLAs across India

There are a little over 4000 MLAs across all states in India.  For the citizen, a law passed by his state legislature is as relevant and important as one passed by Parliament.  And MLAs also have no research support available to them to understand and reflect on policy issues before voting for them in the state assembly.  To make matters worse, the sittings in many state assemblies are abysmally low as can be seen from this graph showing some states. For a while now, several MPs have been urging PRS to initiate some work with MLAs.  We started a Policy Guide series some months ago -- essentially a 2-page note on policy issues of contemporary relevance that would be useful for MLAs.  We started sending these out to MLAs in several states, and some MLAs called PRS back for more information and research. As a way to increase the engagement, PRS decided to hold a workshop for MLAs.  For this, we partnered with Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and held our first workshop for MLAs from Jan 3-6, 2011.  In the first edition of the workshop, we had 44 MLAs participating from a dozen states across India.  The response was overwhelmingly positive (see short videos of MLA feedback here), with requests from MLAs to hold more such workshops for other MLAs as well.  Several also wanted longer duration workshops on important policy issues.  We see this as a small beginning for a sustained engagement with our MLAs.

Telangana - Recommendations of a previous Commission

The Justice  Srikrishna Committee, which is looking into the feasibility of a separate Telangana State, is expected to submit its report by tomorrow.  It might be useful at this point in time to revisit the recommendations of the 1953 States Reorganization Commission (SRC) – the Commission that had first examined the Telangana issue in detail. However, it must be kept in mind that some of those arguments and recommendations may not be applicable today. Background Before independence, Telangana was a part of the Nizam's Hyderabad State and Andhra a part of the erstwhile Madras Province of British India. In 1953, owing to agitation by leaders like Potti Sreeramulu, Telugu-speaking areas were carved out of the Madras Province. This lead to the formation of Andhra Pradesh, the first State formed on the basis of language. Immediately afterward, in 1953, the States Reorganization Commission (SRC) was appointed. SRC was not in favour of an immediate merger of Telangana with Andhra and proposed that a separate State be constituted with a provision for unification after the 1961/ 62 general elections, if a resolution could be passed in the Telangana assembly by 2/3rd majority. However, a 'Gentlemen's agreement' was subsequently signed between the leaders of the two regions and this lead to a merger. The agreement provided for some safeguards for Telangana - for instance, a 'Regional Council' for all round development of Telangana. Thus, a unified Andhra Pradesh was created in 1956. In the years that followed, Telangana continued to see on-and-off protests; major instances of unrest were recorded in 1969 and in the 2000s. The SRC 1953 report The full SRC report can be accessed here. Summarized below are its main arguments and recommendations related to Telangana. Arguments in favour of 'Vishalandhra'

  • The merger would bring into existence a large State with ample agricultural land, large water and power potential, and adequate mineral wealth.
  • Fewer independent political jurisdictions would help accelerate important projects related to the development of Krishna and Godavari rivers.
  • The two regions would complement each other in resources - Telangana was not self-sufficient in food supplies but Andhra was; Andhra did not have coal mines but Telangana did.
  • Substantial savings could be realized through elimination of redundant expenditure on general administration.
  • Hyderabad could serve as a suitable capital for the entire region.

Arguments in favour of a separate Telangana State

  • Andhra had been facing financial problems and had lower per capita revenue than Telangana. Resources raised through land and excise revenues in Telangana were higher.
  • Telangana claimed to be progressive in administration and hence did not foresee any benefits from a merger. In addition, people feared that the region might not receive adequate development focus in a large 'Vishalandhra'.
  • Telangana did not wish to lose its independent rights - for instance, the rights to utilization of waters of Krishna and Godavari.
  • The educationally backward people of Telangana feared losing out to people from the more developed coastal regions, especially in matters of employment.

SRC recommendations The Commission agreed that there were significant advantages in the formation of 'Vishalandhra'. However, it noted that while opinion in Andhra was overwhelmingly in favour of a larger unit, public opinion in Telangana had still to crystallize. Even though Andhra leaders were willing to provide guarantees ensuring development focus on Telangana, the SRC felt that any guarantee, short of Central Government supervision, could not be effective. In addition, it noted that Andhra, being a relatively new State, was still in the midst of developing policies related to issues like land reform. Thus, a hurried merger could likely create administrative difficulties both for both units. The SRC thus recommended the creation of a separate Telangana State with provision for unification after the 1961/62 general elections.

From the states: Data on functioning of state legislatures

Apropos Madhukar’s post on available information on the functioning of state legislatures, data on the number of days State Assemblies shows a mixed trend over the 2000 to 2010 period. However, most states uniformly under perform when it comes to number of days of sitting. (Spreadsheet with relevant data here) As with Parliament, state assemblies are convened at the will of the executive. In comparison to the Lok Sabha, the state assemblies perform miserably. In any given year, most state assemblies do not sit for even half the number of the days clocked by the Lok Sabha.

What information do we have on the functioning of state legislatures?

Most legislative assemblies make Parliament look like a paragon of virtue A COUPLE of days ago, an MLA from Orissa made news for climbing on to the speaker's table in the assembly. Not so long ago, television screens beamed images of Karnataka MLAs snacking and sleeping all night in the assembly. But these are only indicative of the incidents of the raucous behaviour of several MLAs in the recent past across the country. And the poor behaviour of some MLAs is only one aspect of the pitiable state of several of our state legislatures. The other aspect of our state legislatures that goes largely unnoticed is how poorly the secretariats of legislatures are equipped and how several systems that are seen as essential in Parliament are nonexistent in states. Even to know the complete picture of how our legislatures function, you need data. And several state assemblies are notoriously poor at putting out data on the functioning of the institution or the MLAs. After one gets used to the quality of Parliament websites and the regularity of their updates, it would be shocking to see that there are some state legislatures that do not even have functional websites. It has been observed that some state legislatures are lagging behind by a couple of years in compiling the "resume of work" which summarises the work done in a session of the legislature. So the first bottleneck in several instances is the inability to access data of the assembly. From the data we have managed to access, it is obvious that state assemblies meet for very few days a year. A case in point is the Punjab assembly which has met for an average of 19 days per year for a 10-year period between 1997 and 2007. Delhi was only marginally better averaging 21 days per year during the same period. Kerala has averaged some 50 days a year for several years now. Some states like Karnataka have legislated that they should meet for at least 60 days a year, but since passing that legislation in 2005, they have not managed to do so for even one year. I am not even accounting for the time lost due to disruptions. Bills are passed with little or no discussion in many state legislatures. While in Parliament, referring bills to the standing committees is the norm, most state legislatures do not have standing committees. The only examination of a bill, if any, happens on the floor of the House. And if data from the Delhi assembly is anything to go by, the average debate on a bill before is passed is a little over half hour. There are any number of instances where bills are introduced and passed in state assemblies on the same day -so there is not even a pretence of the need for MLAs to read, understand and deliberate on the provisions of legislation they are supposedly passing. MLAs are often far more narrowly constituency-focused than MPs are. On average, MLAs have lower education levels than members of Parliament. There is no formal definition of a role of an MLA, and they mostly have no exposure to ideas such as the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. In one particularly revealing conversation with an MLA, he said, "At the time of elections, each of the contestants represents his party. But after the elections, the chiefministerbecomestheleader of all MLAs in the House. If an MLAneedssomeadditionalprojects/ favours for his constituency he needs to be in the good books of the chief minister and his cabinet ministers. So where is the question of taking on the chief minister on the floor of the House on any issue?" There are many aspects of state legislatures that point to a steady and visible decline of these important institutions. But beyond the frequent highlighting of theatrics by some MLAs, there is almost no public discourse on this issue. It is necessary to ensure that the legislatures run smoothly, and the speaker, as first among equals, has the biggest responsibility to ensure this. If there are rules and everyone knows that those rules will never be used to enforce discipline, then the rules will be broken, and repeatedly so. This practice needs to be urgently reviewed. The larger question is whether our legislatures are the highest deliberating and policymaking bodies or whether they are being reduced to platforms for political theatrics. Policy can almost never be devoid of politics and public posturing. But if this means poor deliberation of critical policy issues and the woefully inadequate functioning of our legislatures, then we may need to come up with creative ways in which this problem can be addressed. This article appeared in the Indian Express on December 20, 2010.

From the states: Andhra Pradesh State Assembly OKs microfinance bill

Reuters news agency has reported that the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly has approved legislation to regulate the microfinance sector. The Assembly ratified an earlier ordinance curbing operations by MFI lenders. The ordinance took effect in October in response to news reports on suicides among borrowers.

From the states: Bihar govt to scrap fund allocation for MLAs, MLCs

News agencies have reported that the newly elected NDA Government has decided in its cabinet meeting to scrap the existing allocation of funds for Local Area Development scheme for Bihar MLAs and MLCs.

Renaming of States

The Chief Minister of Kerala has made a statement in the Assembly this week agreeing to look into the demand to change the name of the state to Keralam to make it conform to the state's name as pronounced in Malayalam.  A few major cities in Kerala have already been renamed in the recent past in an attempt to erase the Anglican influence in their naming. Another proposal to rename the state of Orissa to Odisha has recently been approved by the Union Cabinet. This is part of a trend that gained momentum after the renaming of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta.  Bombay was renamed Mumbai - derived from name of Goddess Mumbadevi - in1995 when the Shiv Sena - BJP combine won the state Assembly elections.  In the following year Madras was renamed to Chennai and in 2001 Calcutta was renamed Kolkata. The renaming of a state requires Parliamentary approval under Article 3 and 4 of the Constitution, and the President has to refer the same to the relevant state legislature for its views. However, the change in name of official language would require a constitutional amendment since it requires a change in the 8th schedule. In the case of Orissa, the state legislature has approved in August 2008, change to the name of Orissa to Odisha and the name of its official language from Oriya to Odia. The central cabinet approved the proposal, and 2 bills The Orissa (Alteration of name) Bill, 2010 and the Constitution (113th Amendment) Bill has been introduced in Parliament.