Goa opens assembly committee meetings to public, media

June 6th, 2008 - 11:39 am ICT by IANS  

By Frederick Noronha
Panaji, June 6 (IANS) The Goan media and public got a pleasant surprise here when they were allowed to sit through an assembly committee meeting, directly getting to hear from those in power. “It was quite a surprising experience (to allow the public at a committee meeting). But there were few people present perhaps because they were not expecting it, or not aware,” said lawyer Avinash Bhosle, a corporator from Panaji and former student leader, who was present at the meeting.

A Goa secretariat employee who was present for a meeting, said: “A journalist argued against the setting up of a landfill garbage dump near her home, but the opposition leader had a different point of view.”

Assembly committees are set up to discuss issues of governance and comprise legislators from various parties.

“Going one step further, the speaker also enabled members of the media and the public to state their views before the committee on matters under their consideration,” said an official.

Goa has made another effort to revive its committees that had fallen into disuse for a decade. Not just that, in April, Speaker Pratapsing Rane threw open all state legislative assembly committees to the media and the public here.

But there are restrictions, and the media and citizens cannot ask “any question or seek any reply either from the committee or from the official witness appearing” before it. The panel chairman has powers to issue orders to the media and citizens.

Speaker Rane has plans to “rewrite rules of the house and the committees” to meet current needs, to make members testify before committees in place of officers, telecast committee proceedings live, and permit the committees to sit at places outside the assembly - a huge and costly building that is located just outside Panaji but sometimes considered far from some parts of rural Goa.

Goa assembly secretary R. Kothandaraman said the speaker also plans to create “parliamentary NGOs” to “enable the legislative assembly to reach out to the masses”.

Kothandaraman, who has served in the national parliament too, points out that the Indian constitution does not speak “elaborately” about committees, as it does about the whole house. Committees are fairly operational at the parliamentary (federal) level, but dormant in many state legislatures, he says.

“As an effective committee system is perceived as a threat to state governments, committees are either suspended or scrapped or made non-functional,” Kothandaraman admits.

Incidentally, Rane is also credited with taking the initiative to pass Goa’s early Right to Information Act in 1997 that worked well for a while before it got grounded in lethargy and political cum bureaucratic sabotage.

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