Even as the state coffers are virtually running empty, forcing the government to go into austerity mode, the winter session of Himachal Pradesh legislative assembly that is beginning on Friday at Dharamsala, far from being serious business, is annual holidaying time for many, that too on state exchequer.
The Congress party in its previous stint in power from 2003-2007 had started the tradition of winter sojourn to lower areas, particularly the Kangra district, which later led to the setting up of a second complex of Vidhan Sabha at Tapovan in Dharamsala.
The move to have the second Vidhan Sabha at that time was considered a balancing act to maintain regional balance, but glorified as a gift to the lower areas.
The highly placed sources told that winter session at Dharamsala cost the state exchequer in crores. “Leave aside the costs of running the session, the expenditure incurred on the accommodation, daily meals and the transportation is in crores,” said highly placed sources.
“Last year a whooping price of Rs 53 lakh was spent only on the accommodation. Add to it the cost of meals and transportation,” they reveled, adding that on an average a seven-day session in Dharamsala costs minimum Rs 5 crore.
It includes the expenditure incurred on the people who are not government employees. For remaining 358 days of the year, the Vidhan Sabha building remains unused, still its maintenance, water and electricity bills cost in lakhs.
Though, many of the politician now consider it a wasteful expenditure, but refrain from speaking openly on the issue as it is linked with the sentiments of the people of the region and thus to the vote bank.
The speaker, BBL Butail, when asked, admitted that there was no justification of having two Vidhan Sabha in a tiny state like Himachal.
“I have already said that having two Vidhan Sabha in a tiny state has no meaning, but when this tradition has been started, it should be continued,” said Butail, adding that the building could not be used for any other purpose.
However, transport minister GS Bali sees it as extremely important for Kangra, given its political significance.
“This would be more beneficial when the number of sitting in Dharamsala is increased,” said Bali recently.
Meanwhile, the common people have mixed opinions. Though some take it as a beneficial to the locals, the others are of a view that when people had to go to Shimla for major works, there was no justification of holding sessions in Dharamsala.
“If the secretariat too is shifted to this place for a few days in a year, then we can say that the locals are being benefitted,” said a Dharamsala resident. “It will be a Vidhan Sabha session for Kangra people, for many it is annual holidaying time,” he added.