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Speaker journey has been fulfilling: Mondal

He became a part of Meghalaya’s history as the first non-indigenous legislator to He became a part of Meghalaya’s history as the first non-indigenous legislator to  be elevated to the post of Speaker in the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly in  2013.Recalling his five-year stint on the eve of the MUA-II government’s last Assembly session, Abu Taher Mondal says the journey has been educative and fulfilling. An engineer who made his political debut ahead of the 1998 elections, Mondal was an Independent before joining the Congress. The legislator from Phulbari constituency in the plains belt of West Garo Hills had faced two no trust motions from the Opposition and is confident that any further attempt will be dealt with  support from the House. Presently burning midnight oil and beyond with Assembly elections round the corner, Mondal says he has been working on his personal agenda of bringing about development, unity and improving education in his constituency. Saurav Bora caught up with the 50-year-old Speaker for an exclusive interview in his office chamber at the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly on Thursday evening.

Here are the excerpts:
ST: This is the last session of the MUA-II government. Can you tell us your experience as Speaker during the five-year tenure?
Mondal: It was a wonderful experience. I am privy to great leaders of the state. I have learnt a lot about legislature… and I have reached my goal…I am very happy.
ST: There were protests from a certain political party against your appointment as Speaker in 2013. How have you addressed their concerns and those of the ruling and the Opposition during the tenure?
Mondal: See, it depends…some sections of the people think differently. But at the end of the day, it boils down to how you have justified your own position and how you can improve your position …and how the other parties have taken it…In politics there will always be opposition, one way or the other… but all are good friends personally…
ST: There were complaints from the Opposition about the shortage of time during the sessions. Do you agree to this or sufficient time was given but not properly utilised?
Mondal: Now here I will tell you one thing… that the duration of the sessions depends on two components. One component is government business and the other is Private Members Bills (the various subjects brought by the Opposition bench)…and to decide how many days the government will require to pass their various rules and regulations, etc…it depends on the government and the Speaker has no control. So, the government decides how many days are required to pass the grants, etc. In regard to Private Members Bills, there is a business advisory committee which takes a collective decision to see how many days the sessions will continue…it is not an individual decision of the Speaker.
ST: Do you think that the legislators need further training in regard to public speeches and leadership so that they can perform better in the Assembly?
Mondal: No… see, the quality of debate in Meghalaya Legislative Assembly is well enriched. Members have in-depth knowledge about issues concerning the government and about various issues pertaining to development. These issues are brought through various procedural methods on the floor of the House. During my term, issues were debated and decisions were taken…there were no adjournments…I can say that our legislature is very well placed in regard to decorum and decisions of the House is concerned. Juniors learn from seniors and the latter encourage the former…
ST: Can you tell us about your constituency and your preparedness to face the electorate in the 2018 Assembly elections?
Mondal: See, from the last election I have been contesting from the Congress. There is a party manifesto and I have tried to ensure that the manifesto is reflected in my constituency. But I have a personal agenda also, which is development, unity and education.
ST: There is a hurdle yet again in regard to construction of the Assembly building, which will be raked up by the Opposition during the session. What is the status of the project?
Mondal: The status is that we had floated the tender for the construction of the Assembly building and three firms were shortlisted. Of the three, two had quoted above the rate while one quoted around 15 per cent below the estimated cost…Due to this we had to take a hard decision. The HPC (high powered committee) was convinced after considering all aspects and taking all suggestions from PWD that it might not be possible for the firm to complete the work because of the nature of the construction (it will have a high dome). So now, tenders will be floated again.
ST: Do you think you played a non-partisan role as a Speaker during the tenure?
Mondal: I tried my best and you could see as far as the various procedural methods which have been brought forward, including the resolution for removal of the Speaker, the no-confidence motion…
ST: Expectations of people from the legislators are high in terms of transparent implementation of MLA schemes. What would be your advice to the legislators to ensure commitment to people?
Mondal: The implementation of the MLA schemes depends on the demands of the constituency and how the benefits should go to the people…it is not just the MLA’s decision. As far as transparency is concerned, there is no question of not having transparency. Now RTI is there and you can find out everything…
ST: One of your legislators, Julius Dorphang was embroiled in the alleged rape case of a minor. Do you feel that Assembly law should be amended giving scope for the Speaker to deal with such cases firmly, including suspension and disqualification of such members?
Mondal: You see, unless proven (that someone is guilty), you cannot take a decision. It is the judiciary or the state machinery that will take a call …The Speaker does not have the mechanism to take a decision…Again, the question is that law should take its own course.

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