Kerala, which slipped to the eighth slot in holding the sittings of the State Assembly during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, got back to the first place in 2021, with its House sitting for 61 days, the highest for any State.
The southern State’s showing in 2021 was impressive as the year saw the more virulent second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, between 2016 and 2019, it had the distinction of remaining at the top with an average of 53 days.
Despite enjoying the record of having the highest number of sittings during 2021 for any State legislature, Kerala (where the Left Democratic Front is in power since May 2016) had promulgated 144 ordinances, also the highest in the country last year.
Ordinances are promulgated by governments, which are required to take immediate action on any matter, during the intervening period of two sessions of the legislature.
Odisha follows Kerala
Making the findings in its study on the functioning of State Assemblies for 2021, the PRS Legislative Research (PRS), a New Delhi-based think tank, states that for the year in question, Odisha followed Kerala with 43 sitting days; Karnataka - 40 and Tamil Nadu - 34 days. But for the top three States, the average number of sitting days of State legislatures would have been far lower than the present figure of 21 days. Of the 28 State Assemblies and one Union Territory’s legislature, 17 met for less than 20 days. Of them, five — Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Delhi — met for less than 10 days.
The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2000-02), headed by former Chief Justice of India M.N. Venkatachaliah, had prescribed that the Houses of State (/Union Territory) legislatures with less than 70 members — for example, Puducherry — should meet for at least 50 days a year and other Houses (Tamil Nadu), at least 90 days. (Ten fall under the first category and 20 under the second).
The Presiding Officers’ conference, held in Gandhinagar during January 2016, suggested State legislatures hold a minimum of 60 days of sittings in a year. Between 2016 and 2021, the PRS points out, 23 State Assemblies met for an average of 25 days.
The minimum rule
States such as Manipur, Odisha, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have laid down a minimum number of sitting days through the Rules of Procedure, varying from 40 days in Punjab to 90 days in Uttar Pradesh. In 2005, Karnataka even came out with a law — the Karnataka Conduct of Government Business in the State Legislature Act — with the stipulation of a minimum of 60 days, when the Congress-Janata Dal coalition was in power. However, the five States observed this norm more in the breach. In 2021, apart from 43 days of sittings in Odisha and 40 days in Karnataka, the figures for Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Punjab were 17, 16 and 11 respectively.
As for the ordinance route, which should be, according to the Supreme Court, used under exceptional circumstances, 21 out of 28 States promulgated ordinances last year. Andhra Pradesh with 20 ordinances and Maharashtra with 15 followed Kerala, wherein Bills replacing 33 ordinances became Acts. Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh also promulgated ordinances to give effect to budget proposals.
A perusal of the manner of adoption of Bills by the State Assemblies would reveal that 44% of the Bills adopted by 28 State Assemblies were passed within a day of their introduction. Gujarat, West Bengal, Punjab and Bihar were among the eight States which passed all Bills on the day of introduction.
On the contrary, five States — Karnataka, Kerala, Meghalaya, Odisha and Rajasthan — took more than five days to pass a majority of their Bills. In Kerala, 94% of the Bills were passed after at least five days of their introduction in the legislature. In respect of Meghalaya, it was 80% and in the case of Karnataka, 70%.
Of the subjects covered by the Bills passed in 2021, education accounted for 21% followed by taxation - 12%, local government - 10%, and land and law and order - 4% each.
For the purpose of this analysis, Appropriation Bills were not considered, the PRS’s study adds.