Clashing Mandates and Tangled Bureaucracies: Work Divisions Within a Divided SG
by Riddhi Verma and Sankalp Dasmohapatra
Note: As of 12th January 2021, Sankalp Dasmohapatra is no longer with The Edict. He is currently a part of the Ashoka Socialist Syndicate and is contesting in the upcoming HoR elections. Riddhi Verma has had no political involvement with any party or independent in the Student Government.
With the release of the 7th Interim House of Respresentative’s (HoR’s) Winter Report on the 20th of January, the student body is left in a place to collectively observe all of the work it has been able to achieve within its term. The last two reports seem to confirm any marked decline in the HoR’s capacity to function, given they both explicitly state that the House has not provided any information about the operation of its individual house committees since the Summer Report of 2021. The recent Winter Report clarifies that the “HoR notified that for the period in question all the work was taken up collectively rather than through house committees” attributing the change in functioning “to the low strength of the house.” It is unclear whether work was taken up in this manner for the time period stipulated in the report released on the 17th of November 2021, since this report simply notes at the end of its House overview that “The House of Representatives has not provided any updates for the work done by individual house committees”
The Summer Report for the months of May-July 2021 features a marked difference between the style of reporting, with ministries detailing fewer points and not giving information with regards to specific timelines nor detailing the work of individual members. This report was the first following the dissolution of the House on the 13th of June last year. It features work that is primarily logistical in nature, and with the exception of Tarang, does not discuss intra-departmental splits with regards to the work done.
The following House and Cabinet report, released and titled as the October Report, summarizes work done by the House in previous months of July-September as well. The work detailed is in regards to the newly instated Cohort leadership program and then begins to describe work done solely for the purpose of the by-elections. It finally notes the new committee members following the by-elections. A factor to consider in the 7th HoR’s flux of work is that committees remained severely understaffed, even after the by-elections, being composed at max of 3 members. This is with the exception of the Employee Welfare and Academic Bridge Program committees which have special members.
There have been only three open meetings held by the SG since the release of its October Report, two of which pertained to the appointment of recently vacant positions: Cultural Affairs Minister Bhaavya Gupta and acting Leader of Opposition (LO), Rochan Mohapatra. The third meeting was held on the 30th of November to discuss and pass amendments to the Constitution pertaining to the appointment of ministers.
As stated in its recent Winter Report, the House has also passed the addition of a Clause 8 to Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution, which now obliges cabinet members to stay on for a period of one month after the end of their term in an advisory role. This amendment was passed by a vote of 6, with 2 members absent (Advaith and Karan), and an objection from acting President Neha. The report also states that the House voted and passed changing the mandate of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs. The House also witnessed the resignation of the previous LO and House member Advaith Jayakumar later in December.
In a conversation with The Edict, Deputy Campus Life Minister (CLM) Advaith Jayakumar mentioned that during a closed SG meeting with the AUEC on 26th September 2021, they contemplated “killing the House.” They ultimately decided against it given the consequential loss to the student body’s negotiating power with administration. Moreover, he felt that the HoR members elected in the by-election were largely “incompetent” and pitched in significantly more on optics work as opposed to other work that was equally pressing. Allegedly, most HoR members have also been failing to attend necessary meetings with administration and thus the work has fallen on the shoulders of a few active members. As a direct result of this, Cabinets have suffered as there has been no clear separation of work between the HoR and the Cabinet with many of the bureaucratic processes impeding reform, aggravated by a largely inactive House.
Jayakumar does speak positively regarding the working of Cabinets however, suggesting that “for the first time under the non-partisan ministership of Ananya Gupta, there is proper separation of work within the Campus Life Ministry. The House is barely involved in its working, currently only President Neha knows of the workings, which is good…and bad since the House should be more active.” Advaith felt that separation of work between the House and Cabinet was a reform that should have been pushed for by the 7th HoR itself. The recent Winter Report confirms the Campus Life Ministry’s aim of separating work, citing that the ministry is currently working on the “formulation of a policy document delineating separation of work” in order to “provide a clear mandate for ministries to come.”
Presently, most ministries have “organically” reinterpreted more work under their mandate but with an uninterested House there is only so much that can be done. Ministries allegedly also had a head start in completing work– having “continued working throughout the summer,” relatively unaffected by the dissolution of the House as per Jayakumar’s observation. The Deputy CLM also mentions how “many of the ministers currently in the cabinet were appointed half-term during [his] presidency. This is beneficial because a majority of them will be interested in completing and continuing work in the next term.” For the members of the cabinet however, continuation of work in an advisory capacity is now mandated by the additional Clause 8.
Jayakumar also confirms that the lack of information in the House reports is a result of the understaffed House prioritizing completion of ongoing work as opposed to getting caught up with report collation logistics. He expressed his personal prioritization of issues like workers rights and student life issues over SG reform since “people’s employment and lives were directly on the line.”
With the end of the Interim HoR’s term approaching, the Question Hour on 28th of January regarding the Winter Report provides the student body with a final opportunity to question House members regarding the work that they have done. Given the paucity of information present in all the reports, it is a crucial point of engagement for students to encourage more transparency within past and future Houses.