Sabal Bidhayak: A series of Orientation Programmes
for Assam MLAs

organized by

Assam Legislative Assembly

Programme Design & Coordination by

Centre for Development & Peace Studies

first phase: 2- 4 October, 2016

Mr Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, CDPS making the programme introduction at the Inaugural of the Sabal Bidhayak Programme organised by the Assam Assembly. Seated (L-R) Dr Jaimini Bhagwati, Chief Minister Mr Sarbananda Sonowal, Assembly Speaker Mr Ranjeet Dass, Finance and Education Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma and Deputy Speaker Mr Dilip Kumar Paul
A Brief Report of the First Phase of the Programme
  The Assam Legislative Assembly has initiated a series of orientation programme titled Sabal Bidhayak for its members. The Sabal Bidhayak series has been designed by the Guwahati-based think-tank Centre for Development and Peace Studies which is also coordinating the programme. The first phase of the intensive orientation programme ended on October 4 with political leaders, diplomats, academics and journalists deliberating on the role of the legislators in bringing about change and development in the State. The programme will have a total of nineteen interactive lecture sessions. Around thirty speakers from within and outside Assam will be participating in the interactive sessions spread over three months.

Day 1: October 2, 2016

  Welcome Address:
Shri Ranjeet Kumar Dass, Speaker, Assam Legislative Assembly

In his welcome address, the Assam Assembly Speaker, Shri Ranjeet Kumar Dass said that this is for the first time that the State Legislature has undertaken such an exhaustive programme targeted at empowering the legislators by bringing in experts on diverse fields to talk and interact with them. He called upon the MLAs to turn up in strength during the remaining sessions of the programme. The Speaker said it is extremely important for legislators to understand and analyse issues from both a micro and macro perspective. He said it is, therefore, necessary for legislators to equip themselves with inputs on issues impacting their concerned State, the nation and the world in general.

Lighting of the Lamp by Dignitaries
  Introduction to the Programme:
Mr Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, CDPS

Mr Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies, presented an introduction to the Sabal Bidhayak programme to all the participants.

Mr Hussain said that an MLA’s role as an agent of change and development needs to be recognized in order to build a new Assam. It is with this scope—looking at an MLA as an agent of change and development—that CDPS has designed the programme, including sessions on Act East Policy, Sustainable Development Goals, Skilling and Regenerating Assam, An ideal political culture for Assam and so on.

  Inaugural Address:
Shri Sarbananda Sonowal, Chief Minister, Assam
  Inaugurating the programme on October 2nd, Chief Minister Shri Sarbananda Sonowal said that voters of the State want their elected representatives as “empowered legislators”. “The expectations of the people have grown in recent times. They want their legislators to be active. Growth of digital literacy means growth in accountability and responsibility for MLAs,” he said.

Stating that digital literacy and adopting technology are key areas for the MLAs to tackle newer challenges of society, Shri Sonowal said the people from the constituency these days want to know every activity of the MLA throughout the day and social media plays a big role in that. The representatives must bring transparency in their functioning so that the people’s faith in the system remains intact.

The Chief Minister said that legislators must be proactive and initiate innovative action for bringing in change at the grassroots. He called upon the MLAs to gain in-depth knowledge of their respective constituencies, including resources, demography and topography and said that only by inculcating such knowledge will the legislators be able to properly represent their constituencies and become agents of change and development.

  Address by
Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, Minister, Health, Education, Finance, etc.

Addressing the gathering, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, Minister, Health, Education, Finance, etc., hailed the Sabal Bidhak programme as a very good initiative. “Political environment of Assam in the recent days is not the same as it used to be earlier. People have aspirations; they talk about change and development. He said people of Assam have demonstrated their unhappiness against poor governance, and, therefore, the people’s representatives must always try to change that notion through their work.

Dr Sarma said MLAs could begin to bring about change by adopting one school or one primary health centre as a model school or a model hospital out of their own allocated funds or with funds generated from donors. He said MLAs should work for collective progress and development of the area. Dr Sarma said that in spite of the development and progress taking place in the state, people are not satisfied because of prevailing corruption. In his address focusing on micro level duties of an MLA in their respective constituencies, Dr Sarma urged all legislators, irrespective of party affiliations, to open their own websites where people can get information about the schemes running in their constituencies, money allotted for each scheme, money spent against each scheme, besides information related to the constituency. This, he said, would lead to transparency in fund receipt and expenditure.

  Keynote Address:
Dr Jaimini Bhagwati, IFS (retd), Former Indian High Commissioner to the UK

The keynote address on ‘An MLA as an Agent of Change and Development’ was delivered by Dr Jaimini Bhagwati, IFS (retd), economist and former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Dr Bhagwati said that in order to develop the economy of the State, three important factors should be taken into account—land acquisition laws, labour laws and capital and technology. As lawmakers, the MLAs can make fresh legislations to change certain laws which can bring more investment, and attract capital and technology to Assam. Expressing his concern over unemployment problem in the State, Dr Bhagwati said that the MLAs can play the role of a catalyst in bringing capital investment, thereby creating income avenues.

  Vote of Thanks

The vote of thanks was delivered by Shri Dilip Kumar Paul, the Deputy Speaker of the Assam Assembly.


MLAs participating in the Orientation Programme

  Day 2 & 3: October 3-4, 2016

Two veteran former diplomats, Dr Jaimini Bhagwati, India’s former High Commissioner to the UK, and Shri Gautam Mukhopadhaya, former Ambassador to Myanmar, besides, Dr NG Mahanta, Head of the Department of Political Science at Gauhati University, addressed the legislators during the Day 2 and 3 of the Orientation Programme. While Assembly Speaker Shri Dass chaired the sessions, Shri Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies, moderated the discussions.


Chair : Shri Ranjeet Kumar Dass, Speaker, Assam Assembly
Discussant : Mr Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, CDPS

Shri Ranjeet Kumar Dass chairing a session

Speaker 1: Dr Noni Gopal Mahanta

MLAs interacting during the session

Dr Noni Gopal Mahanta addressed the legislators on the topic ‘An MLA as an Agent of Change and Development’. Dr Mahanta identified the common concept of an MLA as a parent figure, representative of the people, an icon people look up, the watchdog, the law maker, the critic and guide to local administration (district, divisional, block and Panchayati Raj).

He deliberated on important aspects like what is politics, changing focus from government to governance, impact of technology, transparency, accountability, questioning Citizenry, emergence of youth power and the increasing politicisation of administration. He said that healthcare, roads and education are topmost priority to an MLA. He also emphasised on mapping of the resources and challenges of the constituency to which an MLA belongs.


Speaker 2: Dr Jaimini Bhagwati, IFS (retd.)

An MLA interacting during the session

Dr Jaimini Bhagwati addressed the participants on the topic ‘Interface between the Legislators and the Assamese Diaspora in Promoting Assam Abroad’. He said that a committed MLA is one who does not work for a particular family, caste, etc, but works in a committed manner for the collective good or welfare of the people in his or her constituency or the State. Dr Bhagwati suggested grouping of MLAs according to their specializations—engineering, IT, education, etc. irrespective of political parties they belong to so that they could work on such projects that can help their own constituency and the State.

He said that Assam can go for holding a Prabasi Axomiya Divas in order to attract the Assamese people living abroad or outside Assam to work for their state. He suggested that the target age group for members of Prabasi Asomiya Sanmilan should be between 55 and 65.


Speaker 3: Shri Gautam Mukhopadhaya, IFS (retd)

Mr Gautam Mukhopadhaya (extreme left), former Ambassador to Myanmar, addressing the participants

Addressing the MLAs, Mr Gautam Mukhopadhaya, former Ambassador to Myanmar, stressed on the possibilities of trade and commerce for Northeast India with Myanmar. He mentioned about three important aspects in this connection—political, trade and connectivity. Speaking about India’s widening relation with ASEAN, has said that there has to be good bilateral relation with a country to increase trade with that country.

Shri Mukhopadhaya discussed the future prospects of trade and commerce by means of the Asian Highway that passes through Assam. He highlighted some sectors where Assam can provide service to the people of Myanmar:

1. Education
2. Medical treatment
3. Oil, Gas, Plastic industries
4. Tourism (cultural/Medical/River/Agriculture)
5. Agriculture and Food
6. Department of connectivity, infrastructure, investment and training

Advocating the opening of the Chittagong port in Bangladesh for trade, Shri Mukhopadhaya said that this can open doors for trade and commerce. He said that the MLAs too can put pressure on the Central government to further diplomatic relations with the concerned countries in this direction. He emphasised on the need to develop trade and bilateral relations with Bangladesh because it can provide us access to link the region with mainland India.


A Glimpse of the Interactions with the participants

Mr Debananda Hazarika, MLA from Bihpuria, interacts after a session

The MLAs, cutting across party lines, demonstrated their interest in the sessions and came up with various suggestions ranging from organizing a Prabasi Axomiya Divas in the State to preparing an entrepreneurial class in the State to take advantage of the Act East Policy.

Mamun Imdadul Hauue Choudhury, MLA from Naoboicha constituency puts forth his views
Some of the MLAs with the organizers and resource persons on Day 3
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