Contrary to the way the ruling Congress and Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been targeting each other, the month-long budget session, which was expected to be “fiery”, passed off smoothly, barring a few protests by the BJP legislators on Himachal Pradesh Sports (Registration, Recognition and Regulation of Associations) Bill, 2015. The move has been made to keep a control on the sports bodies, particularly Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, which is headed by former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal's parliamentarian son Anurag Thakur.
The session, which began on March 11 with Kalyan Singh becoming the first governor to partially read his budget speech, turned out to be routine affair. The government's attitude was “casual”, while that of the Opposition, which failed to pin down the government on major issues, was “mild”. The BJP's criticism on the governor's address was also placid. It was only towards the end of session that the two political stalwarts-Virbhadra and Dhumal-indulged into a heated argument over the sports bill.
There were discussions and questions on law and order, which has always been a tool for the two parties to hit out at each other, but BJP focused more on alleged attack on its party headquarters (Deep Kamal) by the Youth Congress activist during a protest on land acquisition ordinance on January 29. Upset with the government's pace into the inquiry, the BJP leaders not only staged walkouts twice on the issue, but even held demonstrations outside the Vidhan Sabha.
On the Oppositions side, it was Naina Devi legislator Randhir Sharma, Dehra legislator Ravinder Singh Ravi and BJP chief whip Suresh Bhardwaj, who remained at the fore front of attacking the Congress government. The party did not raise the issue of “mafia raj”, which it had been talking of in the public meetings. There was not a mention of mining mafia and recruitment of conductors.
While both, the Congress and BJP lacked floor strategy, the government was not fully prepared to respond to the major issues raised by some of the BJP legislators. In majority of the issues, the ministers maintained a standard reply that “information is being collected”. It was the chief minister, who was rather seen defending his colleagues when dissatisfied legislators countered them on half hearted replies. Virbhadra was seen coming to the rescue of irrigation and health minister Vidya Stokes, power minister Sujan Singh Pathania and forest minister Thakur Singh Bharmauri.
Dissent in the ruling was also noticeable as the CM avoided defending transport minister GC Bali, when the Opposition targeted him on purchase of uniform for the students in government-run schools being supplied under Mahatma Gandhi School Uniform Scheme The Congress dissidents tried to create some ripples with diplomacy, but during the course of the session they kept their cool and did not raise any issue that could have embarrassed the government. The government also succeeded in passing 13 bills, including the much-opposed sports bill.
The Opposition members, on the other hand, had not only raised questions against the chair, but for the first time in the political history staged a walkout against the “attitude” of speaker Brij Bihari Lal Butail. Their resentment did not stop here, the Opposition gave a go by to the dinner hosted a day ahead when the assembly adjourned sine a die by Butail. The Opposition was upset with Butail for having announced to initiate action against those giving remarks against the chair, while the BJP members also had a spat with deputy speaker Jagat Singh Negi when he targeted HPCA, appreciating the sports bill introduced by the chief minister.
Bills passed: 13
Vidhan Sabha committee reports: 32
Total question: 887
Question received online
Private members bills: 4
Discussion under rule 324: 16
Under rule 61, 61: 7
Budget discussion: 15hours