Himachal Speaker moots e-Vidhan Academy
If the Speaker of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly, the driving force behind India’s first paperless legislature, has his way, a palatial building in Dharamsala that functions as the state’s second assembly — but holds only a single, week-long session annually — would be converted into a national e-Vidhan Academy for lawmakers across the nation.
Speaker B.B.L. Butail told IANS a detailed Rs 100-crore project report has been prepared for setting up the proposed national e-Vidhan academy in the town known worldwide as the abode of Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
“The basic aim of setting up the academy is better utilisation of the infrastructure round the year,” the octogenarian Butail said. Members of Parliament, other state legislators and assembly staff will be trained to go paperless in their respective assemblies, he explained.
Himachal Pradesh was the first state to introduce paperless e-working in the Shimla and Dharamsala assemblies in 2014 with the commissioning of the Rs 8.12 crore e-Vidhan Sabha project of the Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
Butail was the brain behind the commissioning and success of the e-assembly that helped save approximately Rs 15 crore annually.
The speaker’s proposal follows his concern over the immense drain to the exchequer for the round-the-year maintenance and upkeep of palatial second assembly building, located 250 km from this state capital.
Butail explained that while the session itself costs only Rs 60-70 lakhs, the government incurs an annual expenditure of over Rs 5 crore on the round-the-year upkeep of the complex. There is a permanent staff of 15 round-the-year, while some 100 assembly staffers move to Dharamsala from Shimla for the winter session.
In what is widely regarded as a political rather than legislative exercise, the week-long winter session of the Himachal Pradesh assembly has been held in Dharamsala town since 2005.
The first winter session outside Shimla was held in that year in the town’s Government Degree College. It was said to be an attempt by the then Congress government to woo the electorate of the lower hills. At that time, over Rs 1 crore was spent on holding the session.
The Congress government also started the construction of the massive assembly building in Tapovan on the outskirts of Dharamsala, where the winter sessions have subsequently been held. The complex is located on a 1.6 acre plot and cost Rs 7-8 crore to build.
With the BJP taking the reins of the state government in 2007, it became a political compulsion for it to stick to the move. In December 2012, a Congress government again came to the helm in the state and it continued with the practice of holding one session in Dharamsala.
The last winter session of the present government was held in Dharamsala from December 19 to 23, 2016. The state is going to the polls in December this year.
Butail said Rs 100 crore sought from the central government would be used for construction of hostels and running of the academy.
“Earlier, the proposal to set up the academy was submitted to Union Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. Now we have been asked to take up the issue with the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs,” he said.
BJP leader and two-time former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said the practice of holding the winter session in Dharamsala was started by the Congress government.
“During our stint (2007-12) we tried to reduce the overall expenditure on holding the session in Dharamsala and we succeeded too. Our government had managed to reduce the extra expenditure to some lakhs,” Dhumal told IANS.
“It’s a sheer drain on the public exchequer. In bigger states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, they have one assembly. What is the need for two assembles in a smaller state like Himachal Pradesh, said a government official, declining to be named.
A senior Congress minister admitted that the decision of successive governments to hold one winter session outside the state capital has now become more their political compulsion and this practice has to be ended.