LDF government suspends rules, hoodwinks opposition to pass two crucial amendments

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In an unprecedented move, and right in front of distracted opposition MLAs busy shouting slogans against the government for its alleged involvement in a bar bribery scandal, the government on Monday temporarily suspended Assembly Rules of Procedure to quickly pass two critical legislations without any discussion.

The two Bills that passed into law on Monday – the Kerala Panchayat Raj (Second Amendment) Bill, 2024, and the Kerala Municipality (Second Amendment) Bill, 2024 – would increase the minimum and maximum number of seats in panchayats, municipalities and corporations. The increased seats will be based on the 2011 census.

According to the day’s official legislative business, discussions were to be held to refer the bills to the Subject Committee and not to pass the bills into law. At the Subject Committee, made up of members of ruling and opposition members, the bills would have been debated clause by clause and then, with sufficient modifications, would have returned to the House after a few days. It was this elaborate democratic process that was aborted on Monday.

Minister for local bodies M B Rajesh sought the suspension of sections 76(1) (need to refer a bill to the Subject Committee), 77 (discussion on the bill) and 237 (powers of the Subject Committee) of the Kerala Assembly Rules of Procedure. It was the power granted to members under Section 313 of the Rules of Procedure that the minister invoked. Under this, any member, with the consent of the Speaker, can move a motion seeking the suspension of rules. If the motion is supported by a majority, the rule will be suspended for the time being.

It also helped that the UDF members were distracted. They were massed below the Speaker’s dais and shouting angry anti-government slogans, furious that Chief Minister had refused to order a judicial enquiry into the alleged bar bribery scandal.

What thew new laws mean
As per the new laws, the minimum and maximum number of wards in local bodies will be increased by one each. It is estimated that this will lead to the creation of around 1,200 new wards. As it stands, the state has 1,200 local bodies: 941 grama panchayats, 152 block panchayats, 14 district panchayats, 87 municipalities and six corporations.

Three-tier panchayats: As per the existing provision of the Panchayati Raj Act, the minimum number of wards in a grama panchayat is 13 and the maximum is 23; in the case of a block panchayat, too, they are 13 and 23; and for a District Panchayat it is 16 and 32.

The law has been amended to increase the minimum and maximum number of seats in all the three tiers by one each in order to cater to the increase in population as per Census 2011. So the new strength of panchayats post delimitation: grama panchayats (14 and 24); block panchayats (14 and 24); district panchayats (17 and 33).

Municipalities and corporations: Now, in a municipal area where the population does not exceed 20,000, the number of seats is 25. And then there would be one seat each for an increase in population by 2500. This increase is capped at 52.

For a municipal corporation, now there are 55 seats for a population of four lakh and less. Then, for every 10,000 increase in population, there would be 10 additional seats, subject to a maximum of 100 councillors.

Once delimitation is carried out under the new law, the minimum and maximum number of seats in municipalites and corporations will be increased by one: municipalities (26 and 53), corporations (56 and 101).

Opposition wakes up late
In a post facto move, Opposition Leader V D Satheesan wrote a strongly worded letter of protest to Speaker A N Shamseer. “The opposition had an opportunity to move amendments at the Subject Committee and also inside the House when the bills are referred back from the Committee. What happened today was a deliberate move to deny the opposition its constitutional privileges,” Satheesan said in the missive sent to the Speaker.

He said that when the opposition was engaged in a protest inside the House, the Speaker allowed the minister to take up the bills in a manner contrary to what was stated in the official agenda and got the bills passed without any discussion. “Such attempts to curtail the rights of the opposition are unacceptable,” Satheesan said.



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