Does Uttar Pradesh need an Assembly?

State assemblies are increasingly becoming cosmetic, used to fulfil constitutional requirements. They rarely hold debates or discussions on crucial issues of public concern

Uttar Pradesh Assembly, Lucknow (social media)
Uttar Pradesh Assembly, Lucknow (social media)

Aravinda Sharan

The following snapshot of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly between 2017 and 2022 makes one wonder if the state needs a legislature at all.

  • The 17th UP Assembly met for 21 days every year on an average.

  • Held 101 sitting days in five years.

  • Elected a Deputy Speaker four and a half years after it was constituted with just five months left for the Assembly’s term to end.

  • The Assembly met twice for more than 10 days, and three times for 10 days. Each of these were budget sessions. 60% of total sittings of the Assembly (61 days) were for budget sessions.

  • The Assembly did not meet for more than seven days during any of its monsoon or winter sessions.

  • 45% of the Bills were passed on the same day they were introduced, none was referred to committees

  • Until December 2021, 146 Bills were introduced and passed.

  • As many as 27 bills were introduced and passed during the second session of 2020 in just three days.

  • As many as 57 ordinances were promulgated in the last five years, 52 of which were replaced by Bills.

State assemblies are increasingly becoming cosmetic, used to fulfil constitutional requirements. They rarely hold debates or discussions on crucial issues of public concern, scrutinize few Bills drafted by the government, ask fewer questions and get fewer answers.

Little wonder then that people have only a vague idea of what the legislators do. They have little expectation from MLAs and even less from the opposition as is evident in the following response to re-electing an opposition MLA.

"He is a good man, a sensitive MLA, has always raised our issues. But what is the point in voting for him? He cannot get our work done. Because he is in the opposition, look at the condition of our roads. Police and government officials do not take them seriously. It is therefore better to vote for the winnable party with better chances of forming the government."

This sentiment, expressed for a three-time MLA from an opposition party in the Uttar Pradesh assembly, sums up the attitude of a large segment of the electorate. The vote should not be wasted and it should go to someone who can get things done.

In the Hindi heartland legislators and MLAs perceive their job to be visible among the people, add glamour by attending social events like weddings, signing petitions and certificates and doing ‘pairavi’ for constituents at police stations and government offices.

Their legislative work in the Assembly, their responsibility to keep watch over the Government’s functioning, policies, expenditure and help formulate better laws and policies are rarely considered. Therefore, they can get away by making foolish statements and displaying their ignorance on issues.

For the same reason, it would seem that poorer candidates, even if they are educated and articulate, have slim chances of getting elected. More the wealth and bodyguards a candidate can flaunt, the greater is the acceptability. Neither political parties nor the Election Commission have been able to educate and train voters and legislators about the role of the legislature and legislature. Not surprisingly, a majority of the people in state capitals cannot even identify where the legislature is, much less having visited it and attended its sessions.

This situation has created the increasing phenomenon of wealthy, ‘Crorepati’ candidates. Significantly, as many as 301 sitting MLAs and MLCs contested the election in 2022. The declared wealth of 94% of them (284) increased from 10.88% (Congress candidates) to 59.87% (BJP candidates). Declared wealth of only 6% of the sitting MLAs and MLCs showed a decline.

The average declared wealth of these 301 candidates in UP seeking re-election was Rs 5.68 Crore in 2017. In 2022 their average wealth went up to Rs 8.87 Crore, increasing their average wealth by as much as Rs 3.18 Crore in five years. A career in politics pays.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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