the-need-for-a-second-chamber

Context: The proposal for the Rajya Sabha had no easy sailing in the Constituent Assembly, with proponents and opponents divided over its need and relevance in the Indian polity.

  • Thus after 68 years, it is instructive to revisit the debates on the need for a Council of States and its performance since then. 

Background

  • The central legislature that came into being under the Government of India Act, 1919 was bicameral with a Council of States comprising 60 members and a Legislative Assembly comprising 145 members. 
  • The membership and voting norms for the Council of States were so restrictive that only wealthy landowners, merchants and those with legislative experience could enter it.
    • Women could neither vote nor seek membership. 
  • The Government of India Act, 1935 proposed an elaborate and improved version of the second chamber, but this never materialised
    • Under this, the Council of State was made a continuous body, not subject to dissolution. 
    • The members were to hold their seats for nine years and one-third of them retiring at the end of every three years.
  • The Constituent Assembly, which was formed in 1947, after adoption of the Constitution became the Provisional Parliament and made laws till 1952.
  • The Rajya Sabha came into being on April 3, 1952 and held its first session on May 13 the same year. 

Rajya sabha as a Superfluous body:

  • Not a deliberative body: There are arguments that the Rajya Sabha has become a haven for those who fail to win elections, crony capitalists, compromised journalists and party fundraisers. 
  • Not a revising chamber: Rajya sabha has no power over money bills, no confidence motion. 
    • Instead of revising chamber, it has become a delaying chamber which has reduced significance of Rajya sabha.
    • It sometimes acts as a clog in the wheel of progress of the nation especially when the government doesn’t enjoy a majority in Rajya Sabha.
    • An analysis by the Secretariat revealed that the productivity of the Rajya Sabha till 1997 has been 100% and above and the past 23 years have thrown up a disturbing trend of rising disruptions. 
    • Productivity fell to 87% during 1998-2004, 76% during 2005-14 and 61% during 2015-19.
  • Undermines the delicate system of checks and balances: Due to the emergence of coalition politics, competition politics and disruptions created by opposition, Rajya sabha has become a tool to create hindrance in speedy legislation.

Reasons for declining performance of Rajya Sabha:

 

Rajya sabha’s relevance:

  • Revising chamber: It enables a second and reflective expression of representative opinion besides checking the propensity to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions in Lok Sabha.
  • Represent federal character of the Parliament: Rajya Sabha takes care of the interests of states as it has representation from states.
  • Permanent House: It provides the nation leadership and stability in the times when Lok Sabha is not constituted. It is a permanent house and not dissolved.
  • The Rajya Sabha exercises moral control over the Lok Sabha. The valuable opinions expressed by the seasoned and mature members of the Rajya Sabha are good for Indian democracy. 

Way Ahead:

  • The bicameral nature of the Indian Parliament is likely to be interpreted as a “basic structure" of the Indian Constitution, rendering it incapable of being amended as it augments federalism which is a Basic structure.
  • Thus the need is to reform Rajya Sabha rather than abolishing it like -
    • Nominated Members to be allowed more time so that the House can benefit from their special expertise.
    • Small and Independent members must be given more time as often their issues get neglected owing to the discussion by big parties
    • More working days rather than the 60-70 days of proceedings the Rajya Sabha holds every year in the current scenario
    • Mandatory Minimum attendance of MPs as some have very even below 5%.
    • The house should do away with the proportional representation system and allow more seats to smaller states or even equal seats like in the case of the U.S.
      • Currently, there lies a gap between big states like UP( 31 members) while most North eastern states have one each.  
    • At least one-half of MPs elected by state legislatures must be persons of eminence, not belonging to any political party. 
      • This will strike a careful balance— capable legislators belonging to political parties will be elected, as will men and women of eminence from outside the political sphere.

Conclusion:

  • It is the responsibility of Parliament and the Government to make it an effective and time-bound contributor to India’s parliamentary system.
  • The present government, too, does not have the required numbers in the Rajya Sabha, members of different parties rose to the occasion in passing landmark legislation relating to the GST, Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code, Triple Talaq, Unlawful activities, Reorganisation of Jammu & Kashmir, Citizenship amendment and so on.
  • This goes to prove that numbers in the Rajya Sabha is not an issue as far as law-making is concerned. It is a different concern which applies broadly to the legislatures of the country.
  • There is  no case for terming Rajya Sabha as “obstructionist” as so far, Parliament held only three Joint Sittings to resolve differences between both the Houses in case of dowry prohibition bill (1961), banking services commission (repeal) bill (1977) and  Prevention of terrorism bill (2002).

Rajya Sabha:

  • The Rajya Sabha, i.e., the Council of States, is the Upper House of the Union Parliament.  
  • Article 80 of the Constitution lays down the maximum strength of Rajya Sabha as 250, out of which 12 members are nominated by the President and 238 are representatives of the States and of the two Union Territories.  
  • The present strength of Rajya Sabha, however, is 245, out of which 233 are representatives of the States and Union territories of Delhi and Puducherry and 12 are nominated by the President.
  • The Fourth Schedule to the Constitution provides for allocation of seats to the States and Union Territories in Rajya Sabha. 
    • The allocation of seats is made on the basis of the population of each State due to which U.P has 31 seats while Assam has 7.
  • The members nominated by the President are persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as literature, science, art and social service.
  • Article 84 of the Constitution lays down the qualifications for membership of Parliament.  A person to be qualified for the membership of the Rajya Sabha should posses the following qualifications:
    • he must be a citizen of India and make and subscribe before some person authorized in that behalf by the Election Commission an oath or affirmation according to the form set out for the purpose in the Third Schedule to the Constitution;
    • he must be not less than 30 years of age;
    • he must possess such other qualifications as may be prescribed in that behalf by or under any law made by Parliament.
  • Article 102 of the Constitution lays down that a person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament –
    • if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State, other than an office declared by Parliament by law not to disqualify its holder;
    • if he is of unsound mind and stands so declared by a competent court;
    • if he is an undischarged insolvent;
    • if he is not a citizen of India, or has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a foreign State, or is under any acknowledgement of allegiance or adherence to a foreign State;
    • if he is so disqualified by or under any law made by Parliament. 

Explanation- For the purpose of this clause a person shall not be deemed to hold an office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State by reason only that he is a Minister either for the Union or for such State.

  • Elections to Rajya Sabha - The representatives of the States and of the Union Territories in the Rajya Sabha are elected by the method of indirect election.  
  • The representatives of each State and two Union territories are elected by the elected members of the Legislative Assembly of that State and by the members of the Electoral College for that Union Territory, as the case may be, in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote (NO SECRET BALLOT as in case of President and Vice President Election)
 

Formula of Rajya Sabha Election:

To win a Rajya Sabha seat, a candidate should get a required number of votes. That number is found using the below formula.

Required Number = Total number of votes divided by (Number of Rajya Sabha seats + 1 ) + 1.

Example - Suppose a state with 100 member legislative assembly is required to elect 3 Rajya Sabha members.

Then the number to win a R.S seat = 100/(3+1) +1 i.e  25+1 = 26.

So if the minority party in the assembly has won 26 seats then 1 R.S member can be elected by them.

Note: Members don’t vote for each seat. If that would have been the case then only the ruling party representatives would make it through. Here members give preferences for each candidate (as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6). If 26 or more members choose a candidate as their first choice,then he gets elected.

 
  • Rajya Sabha is a permanent House and is not subject to dissolution.  
    • However, one-third Members of Rajya Sabha retire after every second year.  A member who is elected for a full term serves for a period of six years.  
    • The election held to fill a vacancy arising otherwise than by retirement of a member on the expiration of his term of office is called ‘Bye-election’
    • A member elected in a bye-election remains a member for the remainder of the term of the member who has resigned or died or disqualified to be member of the House under the Tenth Schedule.

 

Special Powers of Rajya Sabha :

  • Resolution for removal of Vice President can only be initiated in Rajya Sabha.
  • The Rajya Sabha, by a two-thirds present and voting majority, can pass a resolution empowering the Government of India to create more All-India Services common to both Union and States.
  • The Constitution empowers the Parliament of India to make laws on the matters reserved for States. 
    • However, this can only be done if the Rajya Sabha first passes a resolution by a two-thirds present and voting majority granting such a power to the Union Parliament. 

Limitations on Powers:

  • A money bill can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha by a minister and only on recommendation of the President of India. 
    • When the Lok Sabha passes a money bill then the Lok Sabha sends a money bill to the Rajya Sabha for 14 days during which it can make recommendations, it has no power to reject it like in case of ordinary bills. 
  • The council of ministers are responsible to the Lok Sabha only , therefore no confidence motion can’t be taken up in Rajya Sabha.
  • Provision of Joint sitting acts like a limitation on power of Rajya sabha as it is presided by the speaker of Lok Sabha and requires only a simple majority for passing bills.
    • Rajya Sabha is almost half in numerical strength viz a viz lok sabha and hence has no significant control over joint sitting.

 

Bicameralism:

  • It is a principle that requires the consent of two differently constituted chambers of Parliament for making or changing laws
  • This principle came into operation in 1787 with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Its appeal grew in strength from time to time. 
  • At present, 79 Parliaments of the world (41% of the total number) are bicameral.

Federalism:

  • It has been in vogue since ancient times when some states got together to confer the power of law-making on a central authority
  • But modern federalism is entirely different given the complexity of geographical, regional, social and economic diversities marking the constituent units of a federation or a union. 
  • Federalism is a type of government in which the power is divided between the national government and other governmental units
  • It contrasts with a unitary government, in which a central authority holds the power, and a confederation, in which states, for example, are clearly dominant.

Source:

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-need-for-a-second-chamber/article31560028.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/comment-do-numbers-matter-in-rajya-sabha/article31569127.ece