The State Assembly on Thursday passed two amendment bills related to the administration of the Travancore and Malabar Devaswom Boards in the absence of the Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF), which boycotted the proceedings at its fag end to mark its rejection of the changes brought in by the United Democratic Front (UDF) government.
Devaswom and Health Minister V.S. Sivakumar came in for criticism over failure to table in time a report of the Law Secretary on the legal validity of promulgating an ordinance when a bill was under the consideration of the respective subject committee.
The amendments to the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act related to the reduction of the number of members from three to two, reduction of women representation on the board and the establishment of a recruitment board, besides reducing the term of office from three to two years. The amendments to the Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act too were on similar grounds.
Announcing the boycott, Communist Party of India (Marxist) deputy leader in the Assembly Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asserted that the bills were anti-women since it proposed to reduce women representation on the Devaswom boards. For a State that had made headway in women literacy and progress, this was retrograde. He also questioned the rationale of undoing the LDF government’s statute by taking away the recruitment powers from the Public Service Commission and handing it over to a recruitment board. This would set the stage for corruption, which was the basis for the handing over of recruitment to the PSC, he said. The Devaswom Minister justified the amendments, but could not prevent the LDF from making a political statement accusing the UDF of neglecting the interests of backward class Hindu community and the Scheduled Castes and tribes.
Mr. Balakrishnan also cornered the Devaswom Minister when he insisted on the tabling of the Law secretary’s report as had been promised by him. After a few minutes of confusion, the Minister, who was replying to the debate on the bills, tabled the report, but the Opposition contested its veracity. The Speaker, G. Karthikeyan, bailed out the Minister by stating that he would examine the matter and give a ruling. The Opposition pressed for voting on four of its amendments shortly before it announced the boycott, which was defeated by 66 voting against it and 56 in favour.