Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gujarat Social Watch asks governor to ensure state assembly becomes 'meaningful' for democracy

By Our Representative
In a representation, the Gujarat Social Watch, a network of civil society organizations and citizens to monitor the institutions of governance, has asked the Gujarat governor to urgently take steps to ensure that the number of days for which the state assembly meets in Gujarat should not be just for the sake of formality. Providing a table which demonstrates a decline in working days of the state assembly, the representation said, as a result of the refusal to discuss vital issues, “The table itself suggests that democracy in the state is being adversely affected.”
Giving details of how this has also affected governance, the representation, made as a formal letter, said, “Starred questions get very little time for discussion in the assembly. The number of questions asked has increased during any session due to decrease in the working days of the assembly, resulting in less discussion time. Also, number of questions discussed are less during zero hour, only about 8-9 on an average.”
Handing over the letter, signed by Mahesh Pandya, Prakash Shah, Minakshi Joshi, Prasad Chacko, Manan Trivedi, Indukumar Jani, Dwarikanath Rath, Persis Ginwala, Rohit Shukla, Gautam Thakker, Harinesh Pandya, Jimmy Dabhi and Hemant Shah, the representation said, “MLAs do not get chance to give notice regarding the issues which may require longer period for approval, often a week or more. Due to lack of working days, MLAs lose opportunity to place such notices which may be in public interest in the assembly. Other than budget session of the assembly, monsoon session is held only for one and half days.”
No of sessions of Gujarat state assembly
The letter further said, “In Gujarat assembly, most of the reports like the ones by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the State Human Rights Commission, the State Information Commission, the State Vigilance Commission, several inquiry reports, are tabled in the state assembly only on the last day. Thus contentious issues are not discussed properly in the assembly, and that is why contents of such reports do not reach up to the public.”
Giving an instance, the representation said, “The report of Justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry was submitted to the state government September 28, 2012, but it is already 10 months and has not been tabled before the assembly. On October 3, 2012, then a minister in the cabinet, Jaynarayan Vyas, said that the commission has given the government clean chit on several alleged scandals, while the fact is that the report has not been made public.”
“During the budget session in the state assembly, when Congress’ Raghavji Patel questioned about the MB Shah Commission of inquiry, Cabinet minister Anandiben Patel replied that the report was with the Raj Bhawan, and that is why it could not be tabled in the assembly – a lie nailed through a right to information (RTI) application.” The NGO asked the governor to ensure that, in the absence of Lokayuta, the MBShah commission of inquiry report should be published.
In yet another point, the letter urged the governor that the post of deputy speaker of the Gujarat assembly, lying vacant for the last 12 years, should be filled up. “Keeping the post vacant is violation of Indian constitution”, the letter from the organization reads, quoting from relevant provisions which say, “Every legislative assembly of a state shall, as soon as may be, choose two members of the assembly to be respectively speaker and depute speaker…” Asking her to “uphold the safeguards in the constitution”, the letter says, “The appointment of all vacancies is your prerogative.”
In a separate representation, a citizens’ delegation, consisting of representatives of Gujarat civil society, has urged governor to “proceed to appoint a new Lokayukta under the existing Lokayuka Act at the earliest”, adding, they are particularly concerned because Justice RA Mehta, who was appointed as Gujarat Lokayukta, declined to take up the high office questioning “the mindset and attitude of the state government” towards the office of Lokayukta.
Accusing the state government of creating a situation for Mehta to refuse to be Lokayukta despite the Supreme Court verdict confirming him, the citizens’ letter said, “Justice Mehta has stated that the state government has always questioned his credibility and integrity.” Pointing out that state government, in fact, created a situation which forced Justice R.A. Mehta to refuse the post, the letter insisted that such a situation should not be allowed to take shape in future. Among those who signed the letter included Gautam Thaker, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Dwarikanath Rath, Lok Andolan, Mahesh Pandya, Gujarat Social Watch, and Rajani Dave, editor, Bhumiputra. 

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