Patna: Bihar legislators have virtually lost their right to ask questions of the government as the traditionally four-day monsoon session was squeezed into just one day on Monday.
There was no Question Hour, no Zero Hour and no Call Attention motion throughout the session. The JD(U)-led NDA government did allow a debate on the Covid situation and the floods in the state, but it was short, leaving most legislators high and dry.
Around 12 bills and the supplementary budget was passed by the House without a question being asked.
Opposition MLAs were not amused.
“I feel sad. The government gets to pass its supplementary budget but the legislators cannot perform their basic duty of raising issues related to problems in their respective constituencies,” RJD MLA Md. Nematullah told ThePrint, stressing that had the government wanted it could have run a full four-day session.
And for the first time since its existence in 1937, the monumental Bihar legislative building did not host the assembly session. The venue for the monsoon session was shifted 4 km away to the Gyan Bhawan — a state-of-the-art convention hall with a seating capacity of 800 people, which was inaugurated by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in 2017.
“The step to shift the venue was made because of the Covid situation. The assembly building does not have the capacity to accommodate 242 (excluding the speaker) MLAs,” Bhushan Jha, acting secretary of the Bihar Assembly secretariat, told The Print.
“In Gyan Bhawan, we have made seating arrangements to ensure social distancing is maintained. In one row, there were not more than three MLAs.”
Jha said that elaborate arrangements had been made to ensure legislators were not exposed to Covid-19. “The entire venue was sanitised for three continuous days before the session began. The MLAs were made to wear masks and had to go through thermal checks before entering the venue,” he said. “Even the attendance of MLAs was kept on several desks so that they did not mingle while signing the register.”
Gyan Bhawan was virtually sealed off, with those not having passes not even allowed to cross the building. Jha said that at least two Bihar MLAs, Chandrika Rai and Lallan Paswan, had tested positive and could not attend the session.
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Why the session was held
Monday’s session was the 16th and the final session of the current Bihar assembly before elections scheduled for later this year. Before this, the last assembly session was abruptly adjourned on 16 March and by law, the next one should be held within six months, which would put that deadline date at 16 September.
“But by September, it is quite possible that the Election Commission may announce election dates and it would not have been possible to hold the House session just before 16 September,” JD(U) minister said, stressing that an all party meeting had been organised by Speaker Vijay Kumar Choudhary in which all parties agreed to the one-day agenda.
The ruling party MLAs strongly defended the government’s decision.
“It is unfortunate that no questions were asked but this is an unprecedented situation and it is the government’s duty to keep legislators safe. So the House proceedings were kept at the bare constitutional requirement,” BJP MLA Gyanendra Singh Gyanu told ThePrint.
Assembly Speaker Vijay Kumar Choudhary pointed towards the Covid situation for which the session had to be shifted to Gyan Bhawan.
“Please take the information and Covid kit while you go,” he told the MLAs. He also said that all the questions they had submitted to the House would be handed over to the departments concerned and the answers would be sent back to the MLAs.
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