Elections to the 13th Legislative Assembly of Gujarat are scheduled to be held in two phases on the 13th and 17th of December. The BJP has been the dominant majority party in the Assembly since 1995. The 2002 elections saw the largest victory for the party, winning 127 seats. The Congress last held power in Gujarat in 1985. In the Assembly elections held for the the seventh Assembly, the Congress had a clear majority of 149 seats. In 1990, the Janata Dal emerged as the largest party with 70 seats. The BJP registered major gains in 1990, improving their tally of 11 seats in 1985 to 67 seats. The Congress came third with 33 seats. The electoral trends over the last 22 years may be viewed here. In the current Assembly, 117 of the 182 seats are held by the BJP. It is useful to look at the work done by the 12th Gujarat Assembly during its term from 2008 to 2012. Here we look at key metrics like the number of days the assembly was in session, members’ attendance, and legislative business. Performance of the Assembly During its five year term, the assembly sat for a total of 157 days – an average of 31 days each year. In comparison, the Lok Sabha sat for an average of 66 days each year during the period 2008 to 2011. In the same period the Kerala Assembly sat for an average of 50 days – highest among states - followed by Maharashtra (44). However, the Gujarat Assembly sat for more number of days than the Haryana Assembly which sat for an average of 13 days and Rajasthan (24). The average attendance among Gujarat MLAs stood at 83% for the whole term, with two members registering 100% attendance. 87 Bills were passed by the Assembly since the beginning of its term in 2008 till September 2011. Of these, 80 Bills i.e. over 90% of all Bills were passed on the same day as they were introduced. None of the Bills were referred to any Committee. In the Budget Session of 2011, 31 Bills were passed of which 21 were introduced and passed within three sitting days Amendments sought by the President and the Governor One of the significant laws passed by the 12th Assembly was the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill, 2003 which was introduced and passed in July 2009. However the Bill did not receive the Presidents Assent and was sent back to the Gujarat Assembly for amendments. In December 2009, the assembly passed the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill 2009 which sought to make voting compulsory in elections to local self-government bodies like municipal corporations and Panchayats. The Gujarat governor returned the Bill for reconsideration in 2010. It was re-introduced in the house in September 2010 without changes. Another Bill that was returned by the Governor was the Gujarat Regularisation of Unauthorised Development Bill which sought to regularise unauthorised construction on payment of an Impact Fee. The Bill was passed by the Assembly in March 2011. The Governor returned the Bill with a suggestion to include a provision to bar the regularisation of unauthorised construction beyond a specified date. The Bill was re-introduced and passed with amendments by the Assembly in September 2011.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.