In about three weeks from now, citizens of the state will be casting their vote to elect the Members of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly (MLA). The state legislative body in Tamil Nadu is a unicameral legislature, that is, it has only the lower house, unlike Karnataka’s bicameral legislature with an assembly and a council.
The Tamil Nadu assembly has a strength of 234 members, known as MLAs, who form the legislative body. The members are democratically elected by the citizens of the state. MLAs are in charge of making laws, holding the state government accountable and approving public expenditure. On April 6th, Chennai will be voting to elect MLAs who will represent the 25 constituencies in the city.
But to choose the right candidate, the one who would be best able to represent his constituency, we must first understand and educate ourselves about the roles and responsibilities of an MLA. What can an MLA do for his constituency and its people?
Who can become an MLA?
The qualifications to become a member of the state assembly are:
- The person must be a citizen of India
- The person must have completed the age of 25 years
- The person must not hold an office of profit
- The person must possess qualifications laid down by the Parliament of India
- The person must not be of unsound mind and should not have been disqualified by a competent court
A person can become a member of the Legislative Assembly unless they are a voter from any constituency of the State. The normal term of the Legislative Assembly is five years.
The Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly consists of 234 elected members from 189 General and 45 Reserved Constituencies (42 SC constituencies and 3 ST Constituencies) and one member representing the Anglo-Indian community nominated by the Governor under Article 333 of the Constitution of India.
Read more: What is your MLA supposed to do for you?
How is an MLA different from MP or Corporation Councillor?
India follows a three-tier system of governance that consists of the central government, state government and city government. MPs (Members of Parliament) are elected to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha (Centre), MLAs are elected to the Legislative Assembly (State) and Councillors are elected to the Corporation (City).
The role of MPs are predominantly related to the national government where they make and amend Central laws, and vote on matters of national importance including defence, foreign affairs, etc.
The Councillor, on the other hand, represents the voters in a ward and elects the Mayor, passes the city budget and participates in the city council. The role of a councillor is to ensure that municipal services such as roads, garbage management, water supply, electricity are provided for all citizens in their ward. They take the voices of citizens of the wards to the council.
What, then, does an MLA do? With the formation of the third tier of the government, the micro issues of any constituency should be dealt with at the ward level, and therefore should rest with the Councillor. However, it is common to find voters approaching their MLAs with requests to fix the roads, or have streetlights installed, or get some local issue sorted. This happens because of the inadequate devolution of power and funds to the city municipalities.
The primary responsibility of an MLA is closely tied to the smooth and efficient functioning of the state assembly, the three main functions of the assembly being to make laws, to hold the state executive accountable and to sanction public expenditure.
As a representative of the citizens of a state, therefore, the responsibilities of MLAs include:
- Introducing, debating and amending bills, making laws and voting on the subjects mentioned in the State list and the Concurrent list. An MLA, who is not a Minister, should use the Private Members’ Bill to move what they think is appropriate to be passed as an Act.
- Raising matters of public importance during the Assembly session
- Ensuring that the projects/schemes announced by the state or city government is executed in their constituencies. For instance, if an entire constituency does not get potable drinking water supply, the MLA can raise the issue in the Assembly as it impacts every citizen of his constituency.
- Scrutinising how the state is spending taxpayer money and raise issues with the Finance Minister in case of discrepancies
- Ensuring that the state government policies are implemented by the Executive
- Electing the Chief Minister of the State
How does an MLA get appointed to the council of ministers?
After every general election, the members elected on the various party tickets meet separately and elect their Legislature Party Leader. The Governor calls upon the leader of the party with a majority of members in the Assembly to form the Government.
According to Article 164 of the Constitution, the Governor appoints the Chief Minister and on the latter’s advice, also other ministers for the council from the elected members of the assembly. Before a minister enters his/her office, the Governor administers the oath or affirmation of office.
What are MLA Local Area Development (LAD) funds?
MLA LAD funds are sanctioned by the State Government to enable the MLA to undertake development works to be executed in his or her Constituency. The scheme is implemented both in rural and urban areas. The District Collector will accord administrative sanction for the chosen works and will also identify the implementing agency.
The objective of the scheme is to identify and implement the essential works to bridge the critical infrastructure gaps in the constituencies. The allocation of funds in Tamil Nadu under the scheme had been increased from Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 3 crore per constituency per annum from 2019.
Following is a list of work on which an MLA can choose to spend money from the development funds allocated to him:
- Installation of solar street lights
- Upgradation of gravel/WBM Roads to BT standard
- Renewal of badly worn-out BT roads (laying of BT layer only with filling up of potholes, if necessary)
- Laying of cement concrete roads
- Provision of buildings and/or compound walls for government and local body hospitals, primary health centres, Government Veterinary Hospitals and also for government schools, Panchayat Union Schools, Adi Dravidar Schools, Kallar Reclamation Schools, Government Colleges and Government Hostels.
- Provision of infrastructural facilities to Government Special schools for the differently-abled and government orphanages
- Construction of bridges
- Provision of infrastructure facilities to burial grounds/cremation grounds
- Provision of concrete pavements with stormwater drains, if so required
- Formation of new public parks
- Construction of public toilets
- Purchase of jetrodding machines and hydraulically operated sewerage machines
- Provision of compound wall/fencing in the burial grounds belonging to public Wakfs registered with Wakf Board. Since the Wakf Board does not have any engineering wing, this work may be entrusted with the Local Bodies concerned.
Where is the Assembly held?
The Assembly session happens at Fort St George in Chennai. Due to the risks brought on by COVID-19, the Assembly convened at Kalaivanar Arangam in 2020, which is more spacious than Fort St George.
The Governor, on the advice of the Council of Ministers, summons the Legislative Assembly from time to time to convene and make laws. There should be a six-month gap between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session. The Governor may also postpone or dissolve the Assembly.
How is the attendance of the members calculated?
A report by Judge Narayana Rao Committee (2000) states that the state assemblies in India should be convened for 90 days every year, though there is no constitutional requirement or specification. According to former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash Kashyap, speakers recommend that all state assemblies should convene at least 100 days a year. However, the suggestion is rarely ever accepted by the governments.
The Tamil Nadu Assembly session was held only for 37 days in 2017, 35 days in 2016 and 28 days in 2015.
What is the minimum strength of the quorum required to conduct the assembly?
The quorum necessary for a meeting of the TN Legislative Assembly is 24 members (one-tenth of the total number of Members) (inclusive of the person presiding). If the requirement is not present, the bell shall be rung intermittently. Soon after hearing the bell, members should expeditiously come to the House. If a quorum is not present even after a 15-minute break, the person presiding shall adjourn the House to the next day on which the Assembly ordinarily sits or to a later hour on the same day.
What happens in an Assembly session?
Here are some of the key proceedings of the State Assembly:
The first hour of every sitting of the Assembly will be available for the asking and answering of questions unless the Assembly/House unanimously resolves otherwise. The questions that an MLA intends to ask in the Assembly should be intimated to the Speaker when he/she convenes a meeting before every Assembly session begins.
The role of an MLA is to question the Ministers in the Assembly on matters related to laws, issues of public importance, schemes or projects and the problems faced by constituents. The answers should be given by the Minister before the end of the session. It is to be noted that an MLA can ask any number of questions.
MLAs can also ask questions in writing, if he/she is unable to raise them during the Assembly session.
Statements made by the Ministers under Rule 110
During the period, the Chief Minister makes statements on the floor of the House under Rule 110 of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Rules, which was introduced by the former CM J Jayalalithaa. Under this rule, 110 suo motu resolutions will be passed without holding discussions.
However, this rule has earned flak in the recent past as the rights reserved for the MLAs to raise questions on the subject cannot be exercised. According to the report in DT Next, that quoted an MLA in opposition, the rule does not provide the financial details for the projects announced and defeats the spirit of democracy.
Introduction, debates and passage of bills on topics listed in State and Concurrent lists.
The MLAs discuss the Annual Financial Statement or the budget of the State every year. It is done in two stages:
(1) General Discussion and
(2) Voting of demands
The MLAs should participate in the general discussion, scrutinise the budget thoroughly and discuss demands during the Assembly session.
How much does an MLA in Tamil Nadu earn per month?
In 2018, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Edappadi K Palaniswami increased the monthly salary and other allowances of an MLA to Rs 1.05 lakh from Rs 55,000. The pension for former MLAs and members of the defunct legislative council was increased to Rs 20,000, the compensatory allowance was hiked to Rs 10,000 and telephone allowance to Rs 7,500 from Rs 5,000.
What kind of data do citizens have access to, pertaining to Assembly proceedings?
Unlike Parliament, the State Legislative Assembly is opaque. While the overall Assembly proceedings are uploaded on the official website, it does not have important details such as the questions raised by the MLAs, votes cast by them, attendance and the debates. It is also to be noted that the sessions are not live telecast. Neither is there any public data on how an MLA has used the LAD funds allocated to him.
How can one evaluate the performance of an MLA?
The Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly does not provide enough data like their attendance, questions raised and votes to evaluate the work of its members. In the absence of hard data, citizens can evaluate their MLAs on some of the following parameters:
- Lawmaking abilities/Assembly performance: Track the bills introduced by your MLA through media reports or his comments for bills
- Availability in the constituency and accessibility: How often does your MLA visit your constituency to listen to your grievances? Is he easily accessible?
- Solving constituency issues: How soon are the problems resolved in your constituency?
- Honesty/Criminal records/Perception index/profile: Check the criminal records of your MLA here.
The work of an MLA covers a large scope, across the spectrum of the state’s subjects – from health to education, law and order, to jobs and agriculture. Several organisations release reports on their focus areas. For instance, Arappor Iyakkam, which works on anti-corruption, water bodies, citizens’ rights and public health niches, releases regular reports based on their work. Tracking their work over time could help get a ground picture of how a particular constituency has been served.
(With inputs from Prashanth Gowtham, an activist with Arappor Iyakkam; Srinivas Alavalli, head – civic participation at Janaagraha (a Bengaluru-based advocacy group); Ranga Prasad, Joint Secretary of Satta Panchayat Iyakkam (SPI) and TN Legislative Assembly’s practice and procedure document.)