“Assembly a place of worship”

Ritu Khanduri Bhushan talks about her role as the Speaker of Uttarakhand, a state where women have played a powerful role.

“Assembly a place of worship”

Ritu Khanduri Bhushan, the first woman speaker of the Uttarakhand Assembly, is not just busy running the House smoothly, but also initiating measures for creating a safe space for all women working in the Assembly premises, including staff, police personnel and legislators.

In an interview with Agraj Pratap Singh of The Statesman, she talks about her role as the Speaker of Uttarakhand, a state where women have played a powerful role. She also shares some of her key initiatives that she feels will help betterment of the state.

Q: As the first woman speak- er of Uttarakhand Assembly, how has your experience been so far? How is the House, including the ruling party and the Opposition, responding to your leadership?


A: When I was chosen as the Speaker of Uttarakhand Assembly, my focus was on the vision and plan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for women. The most important quality of a Speaker is to remain neutral. One more thing I realized is that it is not easy for men even today to be in a space where women are calling the shots. It came as a surprise to me given the state’s history, where women have been very dominating and handling issues of all sorts with utmost diligence and dignity. The House is like a place of worship for us, and maintaining its decorum and country’s dignity is a priority.

Q: What are the initiatives taken by you during your tenure?

A: When I assumed this role, I found there was no separate physical space for women in the entire Vidhan Sabha complex where they could sit, do their work, or even relax. So, I created a pri- vate space for women where they could sit during lunch hours. I improved the overall facilities for women by making the entire Assem- bly complex more women-friendly. I made it a point to give equal time to both the (ruling and opposi- tion) parties to speak, in a bid to cre- ate a more peaceful and productive environment in the House and main- tain a good atmosphere. Another initiative which has turned out really well is the library- cum-research centre, a place for legis- lators to sit and read, and go through research material. I had realized dur- ing my first term as an MLA that such a place to work, research and study is much needed for a legislator. The next step is digitization of the Vidhan Sabha — since 2000, all our documents were in the form of hard copies, but now we have digitized them. We are looking forward to hav- ing an e-Vidhan Sabha; both Dehradun and Gairsain will become E- Vidhan Sabha. We are sending our MLAs on study tours to different states to imbibe the best practices and learn as to what can be adopted in the state for the betterment of people and to add to their progress.

Q: How many committees are functional in the Uttarakhand Assembly?

A: There are a total of 15 functional committees. I have given clear instructions to these panels to file work done reports at the end of every year. The committees have been very helpful in all areas of the Assembly’s functions. For example, the library committee contributed immensely towards developing the research cen- tre in a fast-track manner.

Q: What are the latest steps taken for tourists coming to Uttarakhand, especially pilgrims visiting religious sites?

A: Many concrete steps have been taken in this regard in the state during the last 10 years. If we go back in time, it began with Atal Ji (former Prime Minister), when he gave us the golden quadrilateral, reforms, upgradation and new highways. During the past 10 years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi contributed towards the re- development of Kedarnath and Badrinath, and roads leading to far-flung places have been improved. The government is promoting the concept of home stays and providing robust infrastructure, including facili- ties along the road, and policing ini- tiatives that make people feel secure. With the increased number of home stays, people now have flexible lodging facilities, and also the locals get additional sources of income. Peo- ple travelling to the state get to experi- ence Uttarakhand’s culture in a more real and warm manner. Internet connectivity has also improved to a great extent which is a crucial factor in almost everyone’s life these days. We know a lot more needs to be done, but everything will be taken up in tune with nature.

Q: What do you think has been the role of women in Uttarakhand, especially in the formation of the state?

A: My paternal grandparents are from Garhwal, and the maternal side belongs to the Kumaon region, and as a child, I have seen very powerful women, like my maternal grandmoth- er and paternal grandmother, both of whom maintained great community connect, particularly with the local women. My maternal grandmother ran the house, worked for women and children, and is my inspiration. Uttarakhand has a majority of men in the Army. Women run every- thing at home, from taking care of kids, farming, handling financial mat- ters to taking care of the societal responsibilities. When efforts were made to cre- ate a state, women played a promi- nent role, they faced lathis, fed peo- ple food and supported the move- ment with full zeal. When my father was the chief minister, 50 per cent reservation was allotted to women in zila panchayats. Uttarakhand’s women have led by example, championing at both domestic as well as work front, grow- ing out of their husband’s shadows, and coming to a position where they are ‘heard’.

Q. What is your take on the abrogation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir ?

A: As kids, when we used to go to Jammu and Kashmir as my father was in the Army, we were strictly told not to enter certain areas. Now with the Prime Minister and Union Home Min- ister Amit Shah abrogating the (Article 370) provision, it answers our ques- tion on whether we need a country within a country. The law which was just a tempo- rary measure, and had to be taken back in time, carried on for a very long time. I want to ask where the stone pel- ters are…the overall situation is improving. We want the people of Kashmir to be comfortable, prosper- ous, safe and happy. After the removal of Article 370, things have changed for good and the state is now evolving towards a better future.