Karnataka Assembly: reform to perform

Karnataka Assembly: reform to perform

The first full length session of the newly constituted 15th Legislative Assembly starting today provides a chance to reflect on composition and working of the Assembly over the years.

It is gratifying to note that the Assembly has become broadly representative over the years reflecting the social/ caste composition of the state, though the major communities - the Lingayats and Vokkaligas - have dominated the Assembly.

The first assembly in 1952, comprising largely of the old Mysore region, had 42 Vokkaliga and 18 Lingayat members, reflecting the caste composition. The second Assembly which came into existence in 1957 after the reorganisation of the state comprising of the northern and Bombay Karnataka regions, a Lingayat bastion, consequently had 73 Lingayats while the Vokkaligas increased their tally from 42 to 46.

The SC, STs and OBCs sent 29 and 19 representatives compared to their 1952 tally of 19 and 16, respectively. The Lingayat and Vokkaliga representation since then has hovered around 70 and 57 in 1967 to 58 and 42 in 2018.

The representation of Brahmins over the years has stayed largely  in double digit - it was 18 in 1967 and 16 in 1978 and 1983 and presently stands at 14. The Muslim representation has ranged from a low of seven in 1962 to a high of 17 in 1978 and presently at seven, while that of the Christians has ranged from zero to three and presently at one.

The composition of the OBCs in the Assembly increased from 18 in 1967 to 38 in 1972 largely due to the efforts of former chief minister Devaraj Urs. Their position increased gradually to reach 47 in 1989 and stands at 45 in the present Assembly.

The SC ST strength in the Assembly stood around 35 in the 1980s and 1990s and went up to 51 after an increase in the number of reserved constituencies as constituted in 2004. In the present Assembly there are 36 SC and 19 ST representatives.

Thus, amidst a strong presence of the Lingayat and Vokkaliga members in the Assembly, the SC, ST and OBC representation too has registered an impressive gain over the years, leading to the conclusion that the Assembly has become more and more representative/inclusive in character, which is an achievement.

As regards the working of the Assembly, data reveals that though it held sessions for a record 425 days from 1972-1978, preceded by 375 and 366 days during 1957-1961 and 366 days between 1962-1966, gradually in the 1980s and 1990s it came down to 200 plus days.

It fell below 200 days since 2000, notwithstanding the decision taken in 2000 to hold annual sessions for not less than 60 days in a year. The 13th Assembly met for only 156 days from 2008-2012, while the 14th Assembly managed to hold sessions for 216 days from 2013 to February 2018. 

Uncouth behaviour

Statistical details apart, the sessions in recent years have been marred by dharnas, walk outs and frequent adjournments coming in the way of meaningful transaction of legislative business and debates.

The 13th Assembly witnessed a new low in parliamentary behaviour by a few members by standing on the table and a member even tearing his shirt and waving it, with TV channels beaming pictures of it. The 14th Assembly passed a slew of bills without any discussion including the budget with the BJP members staging a walk out.

To arrest the decline of the legislature, it is imperative to bring about some reforms in its functioning. Significant among them are: 1) the ruling and the Opposition parties commit themselves to uninterrupted conduct of 60 days sessions in a year and agreeing to work for extra days to compensate for loss of man hours due to adjournments; 2) the Speaker be vested with the power to convene sessions unlike the present practice of the ruling party deciding it; 3) the Question Hour be completed within the stipulated time to allow transaction of the agenda fixed for the day; 4) the Calling Attention Motions on issues of public importance be taken up after 4 or 5 pm; 5) the legislative scrutiny of Bills be strictly carried out; 6) strict monitoring of the attendance and performance of members in the House and display of such details on the notice board and the Assembly website; 7) members trooping into the well of the House be suspended for a day or even the rest of the week; 8) ministers be present in the House to furnish replies to questions raised by members; 9) increase in salaries and allowances of the members be decided by a Commission appointed by the government and not by members themselves; 10) live telecasting of the proceedings of the House to help voters observe the ‘legislative’ behaviour and performance of their representatives.

It is hoped, the Assembly under the leadership of Ramesh Kumar, as the second time Speaker, would resolve to reinvent itself and facilitate qualitative improvement of its functioning.

(The writer is a retired professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and presently a Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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