Dharamsala: The previous Congress government started the practice of annually holding the winter session of the state assembly at Dharamsala with the idea of taking the legislators to the people. But the populist move is now being viewed as a drain on the exchequer.
The first winter session outside Shimla was held in 2005 at Dharamsala’s Government Degree College. It was said to be an attempt by the then Congress government to woo the electorate of the lower hills. At that time, over Rs.1 crore was spent on holding the session.
Leader of the opposition, Vidya Stokes says: “We started this process to benefit the people of the lower areas. It provided them with an occasion to meet their legislators.”
The Congress government also started the construction of the massive assembly building in Tapovan on the outskirts of Dharamsala, where the winter sessions have subsequently been held.
With the BJP government taking reins of the state government in 2007, it became a political compulsion for it to stick to the move.
Himachal Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said: “The practice of holding the winter session in Dharamsala was started by the previous government. We are simply following it. It’s of course a question of honouring the sentiments of the people. For them, the government comes at their doorstep every year.”
Dhumal also said that efforts are being made to reduce the expenditure on holding the session.
“Clear-cut guidelines have been issued to all the departments to reduce expenditure as much as possible. Our government has already managed to reduce the extra expenditure incurred in Dharamsala from over Rs.1 crore to some lakh.”
But besides the expenditure that goes into organising the session, there is also the cost incurred in the upkeep of the Tapovan assembly building. For round-the-year upkeep of the complex, the government incurs an annual budget of over Rs.20 lakh.
“It’s a sheer drain on the exchequer. For less than a week of occupancy in a year, the government is spending huge public money. It’s a sheer wastage,” an official said but declined to be named.
The winter session of the assembly this year begins at Dharamsala from Monday, December 19.