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Debt-ridden state continues to afford Himachal Assembly at two places

Political move of the then Congress government to have winter session of HP Assembly in Dharamshala instead of Shimla has burdened the public exchequer with crores of rupees since 2005.

Archana Phull | Shimla |

One year after the Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power in Himachal Pradesh, which had promised a new era this time, it is yet to take a call on the need for Assembly at two places in the debt-ridden small hill state, fearing political backlash.

Once again the stage is set for six-day winter session of HP Assembly in Dharamshala in Kangra district from Monday, with the entire government machinery moving to the lower area with bag and baggage, incurring huge expenditure on stay arrangements in rest houses and hotels.

Individually, the politicians do discuss the pertinent issue, but no state government has so far shown the courage to scrap the ‘political decision’, which has stayed for 13-years now.

The then Congress government headed by Virbhadra Singh in 2005 had abruptly moved to have winter session of Assembly in Dharamshala instead of Shimla as an annual affair, sensing its diminishing popularity in biggest Kangra district, from where it had dropped three cabinet ministers in downsising.

The government wanted to woo back people in politically significant Kangra, which had highest 16 out of 68 Assembly segments then, now 15 after delimitation.

More so, Kangra had been instrumental in titling the scales against the party in power since 1985.

In the first year (2005), the then Congress government haphazardly conducted the winter session of Assembly in the premises of the Government College in Dharamshala.

A year later, it constructed a huge building on the outskirts of Dharamshala, while deciding to hold Budget and Monsoon sessions in Shimla, and winter session in Dharamshala every year. It did not, however, work to the political advantage of Congress in 2007 Assembly polls. The Congress not only lost Dharamshala Assembly seat, it badly went down in Kangra and was ousted from power.

The successive BJP government headed by Prem Kumar Dhumal, which did not dare to review the decision fearing political wrath, also lost the 2012 polls, due to bad performance in Kangra.

This reversed in 2017, when BJP wrested power in HP with 12 seats in Kangra, with people giving no weightage to any government’s decision to hold winter session of Assembly in Dharamshala.

Immediately after taking over, the present BJP Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur did show up his mind, citing it as a political move of the Congress government in the past, but has not been able to get going on the reversal.

“There is no denying the fact that Himachal has financial constraints. Otherwise, also, even the states bigger than Himachal don’t have two Assemblies. The decision to have an Assembly building in Himachal was taken by then Congress government in 2005 visibly to reap political benefits. Initially, it got some response, but I think thereafter, people’ haven’t shown much interest. This is true that once such a decision is taken, it can be taken up for review only with public consensus. So, I have asked the party MLAs in Kangra to discuss and seek public opinion,” Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur had told media persons in Monsoon session of Assembly earlier this year. Ahead of winter session few days ago, however, he could only say, “The government has given its view on the issue earlier.”

The maintenance of Assembly building near Dharamshala, which is put to effective use for few days in winter session only, too has been a worrying point. Assembly Speaker, Dr Rajiv Bindal is, however, pushing the case hard to set up a National e-vidhan academy in Dharamshala, so that the building can be used meaningfully for longer time.