Crisis in lawmaking

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Kashmir’s legislative assembly will conclude its marathon budget sessions this week. Apart from offering details of what the state government will earn and spend in the year starting April 2018, there has not been any major outcome of the session that will justify fat expenditure by way of additional fees, security and other logistics. At one point of time, it was expected that the opposition and part of the treasury benches may join in discussions and manage passage of a resolution that will suggest Delhi strongly the requirement of an early dialogue with Pakistan. That did not happen.

By and large, the assembly sittings were boring exercises and most of what the lawmakers said was very particular about various developmental activities in their areas. There were quite a few instances in which, one or a few lawmakers, would take up bigger issues that would indicate their concern about bigger tensions that state was facing.

There were divisions. The shelling on border became a BJP issue and the killings in Kashmir became an NC plank. The ugly scenes included the humiliating marshalling of Engineer Rasheed, who eventually boycotted the session and would be seen more on road than in the House.

Question Hour has historically remained the most significant capsule of news-making as the lawmakers would seek information on issues that would go to page one of newspapers routinely. In an era where many people think the RTI movement has reduced the significance of the question hour, there were not interesting questions at all. By and large, these were small queries about various developmental activities and allocations with territorial restrictions to the constituencies and districts. The upgrade was when the questions were about regional allocations with a clear motive to talk about alleged discriminations, playing one region against another. On certain days, the legislative Council questions were qualitatively better than the assembly. This was perhaps because the MLCs lack territorial restrictions.

The main business of the House, however, is the lawmaking. Even after GST regime’s takeover of India, Jammu and Kashmir assembly still has a lot of powers to legislate on issues of welfare and systems-building. The only piece of good legislation was changed the Appropriation Bill and including certain clauses that seek expenditure following set timelines. There was, however, no indication from the lawmakers taking lawmaking seriously. A few pieces of legislation and debates pertained to the banning of liquor. This also indicated that the lawmakers do not have a clear idea about what J&K requires in the twenty-first century.

Lawmaking has, by and large, remained the prerogative of the state government. Bureaucracy and the state’s law department usually draft the bills, which, by and large, are the copies of various laws that Lok Sabha has already adopted.

While this is the standard set for lawmaking, the MLAs have rarely pondered over the fact that some of the best welfare laws that have been adopted across India have not been adopted by the J&K assembly. Across India, the land acquisition is guided by a new law but in land-deficit J&K, still, an archaic law is used to dispossess people from their inheritance. This normally should have been the top priority of the lawmakers because more than two-thirds of them represent the peasantry.

In case of obvious incapacities to adopt new laws, they could have studied the existing statute book of the state and identify the laws which are no more required. This has also not been done, so far, as a result of which there are countless obsolete laws still part of the law book. All these issues have reduced the significance of the House that is still the most powerful legislative institution in India outside the Lok Sabha.

There could be only a few factors responsible for this. One is that most of the lawmakers in the House are first-timers and there has not been any exercise to help them discover their roles and responsibilities. Yet another factor is that there is one party, part of the ruling alliance that is strongly rooted in an ideology which limits its capacity to think beyond that.

The other reason is that the lawmakers are facing chocked between ministries and the panchayats. They say they are caught between the two powerful and resourceful systems. The ministries, usually manned by the experienced babus, have the final say in allocations and priorities. At the ground level is the Panchayat which has more money and huge flexibility in expenditures than the lawmakers. MLAs see the Panchayats as a challenge to the very existence. In fact a few of the Panchayat members are already in the assembly and some more are contesting the next assembly election.

It was in this backdrop that the lawmakers were receptive to the idea of an alternative system of development, the Legislator Oriented Governance System (LOGS), in which their status and the say remains intact. The assembly was expected to discuss the idea and the finance minister, the LOGS architect, had announced he would lay on the table the basic idea paper on it. With or without LOGS, the political parties in the state will have to invest time and efforts to rediscover the significance of the House as the situation around it has changed dramatically.

It is true that most of the lawmakers have responsibilities about basics of life but in a state that is bleeding for nearly three decades and has a generation resting in graves, adds more responsibility on the House. Political parties need to remind its members of these responsibilities and help them train for that. This assembly has still three years to go.

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