Most state assemblies sit for barely 30 days a year

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Times of India, February 17, 2022

After weeks and months of intense and often polarising politics and enormous amounts of money spent on campaigning and conduct of elections, most state legislatures sit for barely 30 days a year. In some like Haryana and Punjab, the average is just about a fortnight.
The states with the highest average of assembly sittings in a year over the last decade are Odisha (46) and Kerala (43), but even these are much lower than the average of 63 for the Lok Sabha.

Even Lok Sabha’s attendance pales in comparison to national legislatures elsewhere. The US House of Representatives, for instance, was in session for 163 days in 2020 and 166 days in 2021 and the Senate for 192 days both years. The UK House of Commons had 147 sittings in 2020, in line with its yearly average of about 155 over the previous decade. Japan’s Diet, or House of Representatives, meets 150 days a year apart from any extraordinary or special sessions. In Canada, the House of Commons is to sit on 127 days this year and Germany’s Bundestag, where it is mandatory for members to attend on sitting days, is to meet on 104 days this year.

TOI analysed the data on sittings of 19 legislative assemblies available on their websites. The average is for the period from 2012 till 2021, except in the case of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha, for which data was available only from 2014.

In almost all states analysed, the lowest number of sittings was in 2020 or 2021, the two Covid years, except in Haryana, where the lowest, 11 sittings, was in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. In the case of the Lok Sabha, the highest number in the new millennium, 85 days, was in 2000 and 2005 and the lowest was 33 in 2020, a Covid year.
Websites of some state legislatures give data right from the year of the state’s formation, while many have data only for a little over a decade or less. In states that have data from the beginning, the average number of sittings per year seems to have gradually shrunk.
For instance, in UP, the average of 47 days from the 1960s up to the mid-Eighties fell to about 30 days by the turn of the century and is now just 22 days. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, from 1955 to 1975, the average number of annual sittings was about 56 days, in the 1975-1999 period it reduced to 51 days and in the period since 2000 it has fallen to 37 days per year.

However, in the case of Punjab, the number of sittings have been low right from 1966, when the state was formed. The highest number of sittings was 42 in 1967. The lowest of just 11 sittings was in 1971, 1985 and 2021. In the last decade, the average was just 15.

While the number of sittings in a particular year could get reduced due to elections or other reasons like President’s rule, the average does indicate a pattern. True, looking at just the number of sittings overlooks how many hours in a day an assembly worked. The state legislature records show sittings as short as a few hours to ones that were full working days, but they all count as sitting days.

Of course, attending assembly is not the only work legislators do, especially if they are ministers too, but the abysmally low number of days for legislative business does raise questions about whether enough time is being devoted for basic functions such as oversight of the executive, debates and discussions on key issues, and lawmaking.

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