Assembly: much ado about nothing Wednesday, Nov 2 2011 

Assembly

KP Mohan attempting to jump over the desk as Opposition stages sit in in the well of Kerala Assembly

The happenings during the Kerala Assembly session that concludes this week did not raise the prestige of the House a bit, but diminished it considerably. KeralaViews does not propose to detail the happenings as they have been widely reported in the media.

The Opposition overdid the show to the advantage of the ruling United Democratic Front. The ruling Front would have concluded the session with some credit, but for the behavior of Agriculture Minister K. P.  Mohanan and UDF Chief Whip P. C. George. The self-goals by K. B. Ganesh Kumar and George outside the Assembly followed.

The penchant for exaggeration among politicians is understandable. Sometimes, it may even be good for rhetoric. However, use unparliamentarily words are not even expected of policemen.

What they don’t realise is that though their rhetoric may seem to yield some immediate gains; it is decent parliamentarianism that would decorate the annals of legislative history.

Minister for Water Resources T. M. Jacob, who died on Sunday, would be remembered just for that.  He was a legislator who studied the bills and issues and presented his points with notable legal comprehension. He had a few records too to his credit regarding performance in the Assembly. May his soul RIP.

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Kerala and welfare of non-resident Keralites Monday, Dec 22 2008 

Entrance of Kerala Assembly

The Government accorded the high priority to enacting of the welfare legislation for non-resident Keralites last week. Though the Assembly had 21 Bills to replace Ordinances and many other published legislation waiting its consideration, the Kerala Non-Resident Keralites Welfare Bill got priority over Bills to replace six Ordinances. Thus, the House passed Bills to replace 15 of the Ordinances and took up the fresh legislation on NRK welfare. This reflects increasing clout of Non-resident Keralites in the polity.

The NRKs are not a vote bank in Kerala. However, every political party woos them because they are a good source of political contributions, especially in an election year. Note that Kerala is reaching out for welfare of Malayalees gobally when it could not even pay pensions to agriculture workers, widows and the disabled in time.

The Bill nominally differentiates between the non-resident Keralites working in India and abroad. The overseas Keralites would have to pay a contribution of Rs. 300 a month to be a member while those working in other States need pay only Rs. 100. No distinction has been made between those working in the Gulf countries and  United States/Europe.

The government will be providing about two per cent of the total contribution to the Fund as grant to partially meet the administrative expenses. There are also plans to raise funds from other sources including financial institutions for various programmes to be charted out under the Welfare Scheme.

The Government has already enacted welfare legislation for most categories of workers and a few more are on the anvil. So, it could not be faulted for bringing legislation for the welfare of overseas Keralites, spending money from the exchequer. However, the income levels of NRKs vary considerably. But, it can be assumed that the well-to-do would not join the Fund if the government contribution is kept low. (Given the increasing clout of NRKs, government expenditure on them is likely to go up considerably.)

As mentioned earlier, the Bill does not make significant distinction between various NRKs or their job status. However, when it comes to their contribution to the economy, the differences are vast. Welfare legislations are normally aimed at taxpaying citizens and resident citizens. The NRKs do not pay any tax to Kerala Government. Keralites working in other States pay local taxes and income tax. However, no portion of it comes to Kerala Government. (The share in income tax is based on enumerated population of respective States.) So, their welfare is basically the responsibility of the respective State governments and Central government. Kerala is overreaching itself by providing welfare cover for them, especially when its finances are in bad shape.

Keralites working abroad pay no taxes. Those working in the United States and Europe are only occasional visitors to Kerala. The Gulf Malayalees sent in most of their surplus cash to Kerala which is expended in the State (substantially on non-productive purposes). The State government collects value added tax on these expenditures. However, they pay no income tax, except when money is invested in the State.

There are now talks of major rehabilitation programmes for Gulf returnees. Many of them are sure to involve government expenditure. If Malayalees from aboard are returning empty handed, it is time that the government made emigration stricter rather than opening up its already empty coffers. That way, we may not have to import workers from West Bengal, Bihar and other States at levels we are doing now.

By the by, isn’t it time that the State government cared for the welfare of the migrants to Kerala?

Congress: Deeper into the morass Sunday, Nov 16 2008 

Margaret Alva

The clap that ceased: Margaret Alva

Indian National Congress general secretary Margaret Alva’s allegation, before she was forced out of the post, would not shock many who are aware of the internal workings of the party. That she has chosen to make something known to those close to the Congress public does not boost the image of Ms. Alva. For, she is no whistle blower.

She blurted it out because her son failure to get a ticket for the Karnataka Assembly elections. Despite her closeness to the Congress high command (read Sonia Gandhi), her position (gratis the high command) as general secretary and member of the Central election committee, her son did not get a party ticket.

That kinship is a qualification for seats in the Congress is something that has been accepted and acted upon by even the Defence Minister and Disciplinary committee Chair A. K. Antony. (If you have forgotten all about that, recall how K. Karunakaran’s son K. Muraleedharan got his Lok Sabha ticket for the first time.) Still, Ms. Alva could not manage a ticket for her dear son. She has been outbid.

Ms. Alva’s present plight, however, need not be of much concern to the public. What is of concern is how our “would be” members of the Assembly are going to recover their investment. Already, they do all sorts of things to recover their election expenses. They will grant undue favours and pilfer public money. Now with their selectors also sharing booty, these activities will become a larger cooperative enterprise. The party will forfeit forever the right to question any member of the Assembly for amassing money. (I am not saying that the party does anything of sort even now. However, opponents within the party sometimes used such issues to their advantage, and that could rein some members.)

All these point to the need for internal democracy in the Congress if it is to retain semblance of a democratic party committed to people.

How far money influences selection of Congress candidates in the selection of party candidates in Kerala is not know. But we indeed know that this practice was prevailing in some smaller parties, especially the break-aways from the Congress. Even a leftist party had been forced to allocate seat to a leader repeatedly in the past, as he was a good fundraiser.

Legislature faultering in holding the executive accountable Tuesday, Jun 10 2008 

Entrance of Kerala AssemblyAccountability of the executive to the legislature is the hallowed principle of democracy. The legislature should be able to make the executive accountable. However, the Kerala Assembly is increasingly failing to keep tab on the executive, despite fora like the subject committees.

Ruling front legislators usually act subservient to the executive. Their role is often to support everything that the Government does. The Opposition is so ineffective in using traditional ways to ensuring accountability that it had to resort to sit-ins and boycotts. All this reduce the role of the House as a pillar of democracy and people’s faith on it.

A recent example will suffice to show the disregard the executive is showing to the Assembly. It recommended promulgation of four Ordinances to the Governor on June 9 and convening of the Assembly the next day. Legislation is basically the right of the legislature. The executive can legislate through Ordinances only when the House is not in session and when there is utmost urgency for such a measure. All the four Ordinances proposed to be promulgated could very well have waited for the Assembly session.

A basic problem is that the Assembly often did not find time to do its legislative business as it does not meet even for 100 days in a year. As CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yachuri himself pointed out during the valedictory of the Assembly’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations, the House should meet more often to ensure the accountability of the executive.

Cacophony of Kerala Cabinet on display in Legislature Thursday, Feb 28 2008 

Chief Minister of Kerala V. S. AchuthanandanThe authority and prestige of the Chief Minister’s office in Kerala suffered another blow when the Chief Minister could not comprehensively reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the Governor for his address in the Legislative Assembly on February 28.

More than half a dozen ministers rose to reply to the debate ahead of the Chief Minister, in an unprecedented display of lack of collective responsibility in the Ministry. In that process the Power Minister Mr.A. K. Balan and Chief Minister Mr. V. S. Achuthanandan even contradicted each other. (While Mr. Balan said that no land was available for acquisition by government for distribution to the tribals, Mr. Achuthanandan said that land taken back from encroachers would be given to tribals on a priority basis.)

The practice so far in the Assembly was for the Chief Minister, who heads the government, to comprehensively reply to the debate while a few Ministers may specifically answer any allegations raised against them during the debate. As his Minister’s had taken over the stage, the Chief Minister confined his remarks to few words.

Mr. Achuthanandan was tongue tied when the Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy asked about the stand of the Government on the HMT land deal. While the Advocate General has filed an affidavit before the Court saying that there were no irregularities in the sale of land by the public sector company (Hindusthan Machine Tools), the Chief Minister did not appear to share the same view. But all he said was that the Court verdict would serve interests of the State. He avoided an answer whether the affidavit filed by the AG was in the interests of the State.