Uttar Pradesh Assembly recently concluded its first paperless session — a feat many had deemed challenging given the strength of the House. Assembly Speaker Satish Mahana speaks to Maulshree Seth about the challenges that the House faced in adopting a new system and the state government’s plans to construct a new Assembly building.
UP Assembly recently conducted a paperless Budget session by adopting the e-vidhan Application system. What were some of the challenges involved?
We had just one month to adopt the new system, so the key challenge was to accommodate all members and ensure that there were additional seats for ministers. Also, tablets had to be fixed on every seat. Despite having 403 MLAs, there were just 379 seats. The Assembly is an old building and thus expansions are not possible. We accommodated the extra seats by taking up more space in the lobby.
The second challenge was the public’s perception about Uttar Pradesh, including some of our own people. When we initially talked about going paperless, 90 per cent of the posts on social media talked about whether the people of the state would be able to adopt such a system. Whether we would be able to secure the system as there have been instances earlier of mics being taken out and thrown at people? This perception made us even more determined to implement the system successfully.
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I am happy that members of both the opposition and ruling party, new and old, adopted the system.
You have hinted at a new Vidhan Sabha building. What made you feel the need for the building and at which stage is the process?
The existing Vidhan Sabha building was built almost 100 years back. Today, it is difficult to expand and we realised that while trying to accommodate all members. Thus, I requested Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to consider the construction of a new Vidhan Sabha building. The Chief Minister has given his in-principal nod. However, the plan is still at a preliminary stage and the details are yet to be formalised.
The first session of the 18th Legislative Assembly, which was also the first paperless session, has concluded. What kind of impact did the new E-vidhan system have on the business of the House?
The number of questions taken up during question hour increased manifold as compared to earlier sessions. On average, about seven questions could be taken up for discussion during Question Hour in a day earlier. This time, we were able to take up around 20 questions. While the Budget session was of eight days, questions were taken up for six days, during which 656 questions were discussed whereas earlier on average 200 questions were asked. As the written answers were available on the devices of members, it helped us in directly taking up supplementary questions rather than having ministers read the written answers first. We are open to further suggestions as well.
How difficult was it to convince senior members of the House to adopt the new system?
While informing the House members about our plans during the very first meeting, I told them how even old women and men in villages were using digital devices to draw their pensions and for other jobs. Hence, as public representatives, it should not be that difficult for us.
I was surprised to see some senior members like our Parliamentary Affairs Minister (Suresh Khanna) and Surya Pratap Shahi show an eagerness to learn a new system. They took some time to learn the new system but are now using it with ease.
How is Uttar Pradesh Assembly’s paperless system different from similar systems adopted by other states?
There are two modules of the e-vidhan system that helps Assemblies adopt a paperless system on a single platform. Apart from having one of the highest strengths of House members in the country, Uttar Pradesh is the only state to have adopted both the modules up to 90 per cent. We did not just install the tablets but have provided the entire rule book and the Constitution on these tablets along with questions and answers. Live screens were also installed in the Assembly that show the details about the House members speaking at a particular time.
Moreover, the 3500-page Budget document was also uploaded on these systems. These are some of the things that make Uttar Pradesh’s paperless system unique. Hopefully, in the next session, we would be able to completely do away with hard copies of documents. Gujarat Assembly has also expressed its desire to learn from our experience of adopting the new system and might soon be visiting us as well.
You have often spoken about bringing more changes in the Assembly. What can we expect next?
Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly has such rich history which is why I have decided to open the House doors for the public, so that they can get a tour of the Assembly. We have decided to allow groups of 11-15 people accompanied by proper guides to get a tour of the Assembly. They can get a tour of the House, the library- which is the biggest after Parliament– the Speaker’s room etc. These visits can be planned after the verification of the visitors.