ORISSA ASSEMBLY ENDS ASSIZE WITH CONFUSED LEGISLATION

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

A Legislative Assembly is created to create Laws. Laws must be created by proper application of collective wisdom of the Legislature. But Orissa Legislative Assembly that terminated its last session abruptly on a rash official resolution has adopted certain Bills that may be branded as Laws without application of legislative mind and may lead to avoidable conflict of interest amongst peoples belonging to different localities and categories in Orissa.

On the day of termination, the House was drowned under unprecedented pandemonium over the exposure of Chief minister’s blue-eyed female colleague Pramila Mallik in the matter of demanding for and accepting a part of bribe to grant regular pay packages for the employees of the State Women Commission and legislative composure was noticeably absent.

On such a day, amidst the pandemonium, Bills were taken up for consideration and adopted sans any discernible debate. These are the Bills to amend: (1) The Orissa Municipal Corporation Act, 2003, (2) The Orissa Municipal Act, 1950, (3) The Orissa Contingency Fund Act, 1967and (4) The Orissa Grama Panchayats Act, 1964.

Two new legislations such as The Orissa University of Technology Bill, 2008 and The Orissa Advocates’ Clerks Welfare Fund Bill, 2008 were also adopted in the same environment and on the same basis of voice vote.

Two other Bills that two land-grabbers attired as University promoters had used the Orissa Government to draft, such as The Vedanta University Bill, 2008 and The Sri Sri University Bill, 2008, were so terribly treacherous that even the treasury bench members found them unsuitable for consideration instantly.

Had the legislative composure not been affected by the pandemonium over the lady minister’s alleged misconduct, the Bills adopted might not have been adopted in the prevalent shape with embarrassing defects even in the statements of objects and reasons thereof.

For example, the two Bills amending the Municipal Act, 1950 and the Municipal Corporation Act 2003 admit in their respective statement that they are framed only “in order to avail the Central Government assistance under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM)”. What does the amendment provide for? It provides for disclosure of the details of plans, service, expenditure etc of the urban bodies regularly at quarterly / half-yearly intervals.

Ensuring “transparency and accountability” to the public is the minimum duty the elected bodies should discharge. There was no problem in creating such duties through legislation. What was the necessity of stating that this legislation is created only to avail the assistance the central government grants under JNNURM? Does it not conversely say that had there been no stipulation for transparency packages in the JNNURM scheme, the said amendments might never have been thought of?

If the Assembly could have been allowed to give serious mind to these two Bills, this quoted portion should have been dropped from each of them and the Bills could have been vetted to declare that the amendment was necessitated to subject the officials to transparency so that the urban bodies remain accountable to the general public. Had it been possible, our peoples would have been saved from embarrassment that flows from the assumption that transparency clause is contrived just to hoodwink the Central Government in the JNNURM scheme.

On the other hand, the body of the amendment has enough material to show that the State does not seriously support transparency. It transpires from two facets of the Bills. Firstly, the reluctance factor. It is admitted in the statement at Para 3, “The State Government had made commitment to undertake these reforms during the year 2006-07 vide Gazette Notification No. 25566-Tax-16/2006-HUD dated 3rd November 2006”. What was the reason behind the two-years long delay in legislating the reform if the Government is not really reluctant to give it effect to? Secondly, the evasion factor. In sub-section 3 in both the Bills the mode of disclosure has been spelt out. To quote it, “The information ………. May be published by at least two modes, as the Municipality (Corporation) deems fit, such as affixing it on the notice board of the Municipality (Corporation) OR publishing it in the newspaper in regional language having wide circulation in the concerned municipal area OR by posting it in internet OR by public announcement OR by any other mode, as may be prescribed”. If reform was the real purpose, there should never have been so many alternatives. These multiple alternatives are capable of killing transparency through the escape root of office notice board and public announcement. Had the Assembly not been hoodwinked, the escape roots in this sub-section might have been eliminated and dependable roots like the newspaper and Internet could have been specified.

If we visit the two new Acts, the ad hoc approach to tricky issues may show how lackadaisically they are created. A new welfare fund has been created for the benefit of Advocates’ Clerks. Had the legislators not been struck by the rashness the government deployed in adopting the Bill for this purpose, the Petition Writers of the State might have been placed in this legislation too. The reason for this legislation shown in its statement fully applies to the Petition Writers, who constitute a core sector in Orissa’s world of litigations. They are appointed under a specific Law of the State and their legal role is well recognized in civil jurisprudence. They are omitted simply because there is no regular policy on welfare fund constitution and management in the State. Similar is the case of the Law now created for converting Burla Engineering College to a Unitary University. Conversion in this case is not at all incorrect. But incorrect is the approach. The UGC has been stressing on balance growth of technical education institutes and balance spread of Universities in a State so that regional / sub-regional imbalance in higher and technical education should be eradicated. Had the government not taken advantage of the pandemonium in the House to rush the Unitary University Bill, at least a legislative intention for balanced growth of Universities could have emerged. Sans a policy framework for establishment of Universities in the State, political favoritism has been in use for establishment of Universities, though thereby sub-regional rivalry being patronized; solidarity amongst peoples of Orissa is often disturbed. Had the House been able to make a serious business on the last day of its last session, this tricky question could have been properly cogitated and it might so have happened that the House could have framed the University policy for better management of academic resources and necessities.

But no such thing has happened. Consequently the House has passed certain Bills that are far from what a serious legislative business could have produced.

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