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SANSAD TV: PERSPECTIVE- RAJYA SABHA: THE UPPER HOUSE

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Introduction:

The Upper House of the Parliament, Rajya Sabha was constituted on 3rd April 1952 and the first session was held on 13th May 1952. Since then it has contributed to the welfare and progress of the country in many ways. Also known as the Council of States, a nomenclature was announced by the chair in the House on the 23rd of August, 1954. Rajya Sabha has its own distinctive features and reflects the federal character of our polity and protects the rights of States. The origin of the second Chamber can be traced to the Montague-Chelmsford Report of 1918. An extensive debate took place in the Constituent Assembly regarding the utility or otherwise of a Second Chamber in Independent India and ultimately, it was decided to have a bicameral legislature for independent India mainly because a federal system was considered to be most feasible form of Government for such a vast country with immense diversities. In its glorious journey so far Rajya Sabha has passed several important legislations related to Social change, economic transformation, agriculture, health, education, environment, Science and Technology, National Security and matters related to states.

Rationale behind:

  • It was envisaged to serve as a forum to which seasoned and experienced public men might get access without undergoing the din and bustle of a highly competitive general election which is inevitable to find a seat in the Lok Sabha.
  • Since the ‘Lok Sabha’ decisions may go in favour of the populist sentiment and force the members to go contrary to the best judgment, the ‘Rajya Sabha’ keeps a check and balance on it.
  • It was also envisaged to serve/ act as a debating chamber in which dignified debates are to be held on various issues confronting the country. Simultaneously, it was also contemplated that it would act as a revising chamber over Lok Sabha.
  • As in any other federation, so does in India, the creation of an upper chamber was a virtual necessity on account of India’s being constituted as a federation which inevitably required a chamber in which states are to be represented for articulating their interest.
  • Unlike the House of Lords in Britain, the ‘Rajya Sabha’ members do not hold the hereditary membership rights.
  • Our leaders rejected a similar plea placed by the erstwhile kings and princes and ruled in favour of indirect elections.
  • ‘Rajya Sabha’ also provides a platform to the small and regional parties to present their views.
  • The rights of the Indian citizens need to be actively protected. Hence, the relevance of the bicameral parliament structure becomes even bigger.
  • The ‘Rajya Sabha’, the bureaucracy and the judiciary act as the 3-layered wall that sees to the upkeep of the principles of a democratic republic like India.
  • Men and women of prodigious talent and caliber have adorned the benches of the upper house and have contributed significantly towards realizing the vision of the founding fathers of the Constitution.
  • A permanent Upper House is also a check against any abrupt changes in the composition of the Lower House. It has continuity.
  • Unlike Lok Sabha, it cannot be dissolved by anyone. Thus it has, time and often, carried out some administrative functions even when the lower house is dissolved. It has members with experienced players while there may be new entrants in the Lok Sabha.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, speaking as the first chairman of the Rajya Sabha, said, “There is a general impression that this House cannot make or unmake governments and, therefore, it is a superfluous body. But there are functions, which a revising chamber can fulfil fruitfully. Parliament is not only a legislative but a deliberative body. So far as its deliberative functions are concerned, it will be open to us to make very valuable contributions, and it will depend on our work whether we justify this two chamber system, which is now an integral part of our Constitution.”

However, there are many concerns raised against Rajya Sabha and there are even demands to abolish the second chamber:

  • According to various members of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha has done nothing except stalling legislative works and causing policy paralysis in the country.
  • For critics, the Upper House serves no purpose as its members are not directly elected and hence are not accountable to the people.
  • Rajya Sabha often has members from the party defeated in various elections, or are from political families, and due to political differences, they do not allow passage of important bills.
  • This affects the functioning of the government in power which has a majority in Lok Sabha and which is accountable to the public in next election.
  • So many extra members are an added burden on exchequer which can be done away with.
  • Politics of boycotting and creating ruckus in the house and toeing on the party-line even on the issue that won’t attract disqualification provisions is a worrying thing.
  • At the same time, in terms of working, Rajya Sabha does not have sufficient powers in financial matters to bring any change and they are without any direct public interaction. Hence its purpose in modern democracy seems outdated.

Way forward:

  • A useful reform step would be to have members of the Rajya Sabha be directly elected by the citizens of a state. This will reduce cronyism and patronage appointments.
  • This step should be combined with equal representation for each state (say, five members) so that large states do not dominate the proceedings in the House.
  • This streamlined Rajya Sabha should remain deliberative, but there should be deadlines set for responding to bills initiated in the Lok Sabha.

Conclusion:

The mandate of the Rajya Sabha, as can be gleaned from the Constituent Assembly debates and the experiences of other Parliaments, is legislation — to revise or delay legislation without proving a clog in the wheel of the progress; to represent the interests of the States as a federal chamber; and be a deliberative body holding high-quality debates on important issues.