First week good show as UP Assembly makes a nervous screens’ debut

At Rs 6,15,518.97 crore total outlay, the Uttar Pradesh Assembly just saw its biggest budget, as well as fireworks between the ruling BJP and the opposition Samajwadi Party benches. But, behind the scenes, young and old, across parties, bonded over another development in the House: the Assembly going ‘paperless’.

Last week, the UP Assembly became only the second in the country to come on board NeVA (National e-Vidhan Application), whereby all Assemblies will come on a single digital platform. The country’s largest House took its first step towards going paperless with last year’s Budget, but now, tablets have been installed on the desks of all the 403 MLAs putting questions, answers, archival materials, speeches and other documents at the tip of their fingers.

If not easy, it has been enthusiastic going, after a one-day training session on May 21. On May 24, as Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya got up to read out an answer to a question raised by SP MLA Devendra Pratap, Speaker Satish Mahana reminded him: “The answer is already on the device. Parha hua mana jaye (To be considered read).”

But when he wanted to seek more time for debate on the Budget, senior SP MLA Lalji Verma preferred to flag the physical copy of Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly rules, rather than its digital format.

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The younger MLAs – the current Assembly has as many as 100 first-timers – are having an easier time. Like the SP’s Ankit Bharti, who at 25 is as young as it gets. The Saidpur MLA, a Bacherlor’s in Business Administration, smiled that the technology had been a great leveller for them when it came to their seniors. “I would not know what was going on earlier, but technology has made me comfortable. There is something now in which I can assist the experienced MLAs.”

Tablets installed in UP Assembly as it goes all digital. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav)

If younger legislators like him could be seen lending a helping hand, apart from nervous experts from the government’s NIC (National Informatics Centre), Speaker Mahana took the lead in conveying technical terms in layman’s language. When some MLAs struggled with flipping on to the next page on their tablets, the 61-year-old Mahana told them to pinch their fingers “jaise kitab ke panne palatate hain (like you do when turning a page in a book)”. Many MLAs could not hide their delight at accomplishing the above.

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Later, as MLAs raised too many questions together, with experts looking increasingly harried, Mahana told them to take things slowly. “Aap abhi Class 1 mein nahin pahunche, aur PhD karne chale hain (You haven’t cleared Class 1 yet, and want to do a PhD),” he joked at a member’s question on how to upload their supplementary questions online.

Rashid Husain, one of the NIC experts, informed that each member could log into their devices using their own ID and password. The ministers have another software on their devices allowing them to directly exchange live notes with their respective secretaries, to pull relevant information as and when needed when required in the House.

Uttar Pradesh Agriculture Minister Surya Pratap Shahi’s query regarding how to get to the ‘My Notes’ section on the tablet was vociferously backed by the BSP’s sole MLA, Uma Shanker Singh, as requiring immediate response. Shahi was told to go to the part labelled “Tippiriyan”.

If not easy, it has been enthusiastic going, after a one-day training session on May 21. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav)

The SP’s Irfan Solanki, clearly the one more at ease with the devices, was seen opening the logo of the party on the e-books of each MLA and taking a photo of the same. This was later shared by SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, as an example of his party MLAs being already tech-savvy.

In days to come, the MLAs can also mark their attendance in the House via the biometric system on the devices, as well as their votes on issues on the floor.

One change was already visible by the end of the week. Given the saved time, the Assembly could take up more questions.

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