Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The Orissa Legislative Assembly commenced its winter session on 13 November 2006 with an important agenda to adopt the supplementary budget worth Rs3654 Cr.

How would the debates on the supplementary budget proceed when the State Government has failed to proceed in expected speed to utilize the funds at its disposal is a matter to be watched in future. But what happened on the first day with the first business of the House is a matter of concern for all who have not yet lost faith in democracy.

The first business in a Legislative body is assertion of its control over the Executive. The Legislature sees that the Executive remains answerable. Therefore the first hour is the hour of questions and answers. Members ask questions and the Ministers, being the chief executives of the departments under their charge, provide the answers. The answers must be honest and must not be evasive or superficial. Otherwise democracy would fail.

Ministers that are corrupt, incompetent and/or iniquitous usually try to be evasive and the inept ones, superficial while answering. That best suits also the corrupt bureaucracy. The corrupt bureaucracy uses such ministers as umbrage and such ministers keep them pampered.

That the ruling alliance MLAs are marked for their vociferous protests even on many occasions in the floor of the House against this syndrome is a matter that cannot be dismissed as mere political stunts. Even the Speaker on various occasions has expressed concern over evasive replies to members’ queries.

The scenario is not changing. The Chief Minister’s answer to the first question of the first day today is indicative of this.

Sitakanta Mohapatra of the Congress had wanted to know as to why the Government has failed to curb spread of Naxal activities. The CM ‘s reply was that his government has taken many safety and developmental steps and the State is not as affected as the neighboring States. Holding it evasive, the questioner put a supplementary query wherein he wanted to know as to whether ammunitions for Naxal armory are being conveyed into Orissa from Nepal and Srilanka and if yes, what steps the Government has taken to stop this. The CM ‘reply was such that Mohapatra wondered if it was the answer! On call, Tara Prasad Bahinipati of Congress asked as to how many Naxals have been killed in encounters ever since their organizations were banned by the State and what is the progress in the CM’s promised dialogue with the Naxal groups. The answer, not commensurate with the question, came with an advice that the member should put his query in a separate form. Is it the answer? He wondered. On call again, Lalatendu Vidyadhar Mohapatra of Congrees wanted to know as to how much money the State has spent on compensation paid the victims of Naxal guns. The answer was that Orissa was less affected by Naxal violence in comparison to other States. Is it the answer? The entire Opposition wanted the Speaker to clarify if it was the answer. The Speaker was flooded with the plea that he should advise the CM to answer to their queries in stead of marshalling evasive replies. He was insisting that the members should file separate questions when Narasimha Mishra, Deputy leader of Opposition hurled his query to know as to why the Naxal revolution has gained strength and whether or not socio-economic menaces that the people are subjected is its basic factor. The CM shocked the Opposition by going beyond the query to divert attention of the House to alleged trimming of central assistance to KBK program. Is it the answer? – wondered the Deputy Leader of Opposition.

This agony not looked into, the Speaker called the Finance Minister Prafulla Ghadei to answer the next question that ignited such protests that the House was to remain adjourned, time and again, till 3 PM.

But the question – Is it the answer? – went unanswered.

This syndrome is very harmful to the health of democracy. If the government gives evasive answers and enjoys immunity in evading questions, democracy will collapse.

To save the democracy from doom, it is necessary that the Speaker must compel the CM and his council of ministers to answer the questions properly and truthfully. The question is never asked directly to a minister. It is asked to the Speaker in a style that links the concerned minister and the minister concerned also addresses the Speaker while answering the question raised by a member. This mechanism has made it clear that it is the Speaker who is to see if the answer given by a minister is correct. He should refuse to tolerate inadequate, inappropriate and improper answers and bind by his rulings the ministers to stop hoodwinking the House. When a member alleges that he has not got the answer the Speaker must use his impartial wisdom to determine as to weather the answer is correct and if he finds that the same does not satisfy the question, he must nullify the answer on records. If done, it would be the most effective deterrent to evasive conduct of the council of ministers and thereby answerability of the Executive to the Legislature would be enforced.

Is it the answer? – is therefore a question that the Speaker should answer.

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