THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Exactly 19 years, nine months and 28 days after it was shifted to an ultra-modern complex a couple of kilometres away, the State Assembly will be held in the Old Assembly Hall on April 27 to mark the 60th anniversary of the first Kerala Ministry. On June 29, 1998, the last day in the Old Assembly Hall, K M Mani, now the longest serving legislator in the history of the State, was perhaps the most nostalgic about the shift. Speaking about the Hall where he had been for 31 years, Mani said: "The wood has entered into my soul." He compared the Hall to a beauty, and like a lover to a beloved, he whispered: “I have only this to tell you my dear. Don’t worry. We might be going to a new building but we will frequently return to get a glimpse of you." It is not clear whether Mani had kept his promise even during the years he was minister. If Mani was dramatic, the response of K R Gouri, who was then out of CPM and was in the opposition, was profound. She was the last speaker of the day. “After having sat here for the last 40 years and been witness to the state's progress and agony, it feels sad to move to another building,” she said. She was the only representative of the first EMS ministry but none of her former comrades in the ruling front headed by E K Nayanar had referred to her contributions. (R Balakrishna Pillai did chastise the CPM for not mentioning her.)
Unruffled, Gouri reminded the House of the strides the state had taken. “In 1957 when I became minister, the government had no right to assign land. Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer had blocked such a welfare move,” she said. Gouri wanted Assembly rules to be subjected to change, wanted smaller parties greater say. “If a single member party is given just one minute to speak, what can this person speak in the given time. CPM first entered the Thru-Kochi Assembly with a single member,” she reminded. Chief Minister E K Nayanar was his usual jovial self, cutting the opposition to size. “This Hall had witnessed some historic legislations that became shining examples for the country. But there were unseemly incidents, too, like the Speaker using his casting vote to save a government,” he said. (He was referring to A C Jose’s use of his casting vote in 1982 to save the K Karunakaran ministry.) “But then, we can take solace in the thought that all that went bad here is not the fault of this building,” he said, looking up at the high roof from where innumerable fans hung on long stalks.
However, the biggest concern of the day was the huge cost of the new Assembly Complex. It was voiced by opposition leader A K Antony. "The moot point is whether we needed a new complex by spending such a gargantuan sum," he said. “When the government under me in 1978 decided to construct a new Assembly Complex, the estimated cost was Rs 4.5 crore. That this has now swelled to Rs 75 crore in 20 years puts a big question mark over our efficiency," he said. K Kunhalikutty, who had been in the Hall for 17 years, asked: “Wouldn't it have been enough if we had air-conditioned this hall?” R Balakrishna Pillai was the least bothered. He wondered why there was so much guilt about the shift to a new building. “Last session, it was hard to function here for both the legislators and journalists. The heat that rises from the rexene is intolerable. And because of the heat, many seniors begin to doze off right from the morning stalwarts were found sleeping from morning to evening. Climate change had affected the Assembly hall, too,” Mr Pillai said.