Is Rajya Sabha a secondary house?.

Rajya Sabha’ or the ‘Council of States’ is the second chamber of the Indian parliament, which traces its origin to the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, 1919.

Rajya Sabha as the second chamber of the parliament intended to play certain roles as a permanent house (it never dissolves like Lok sabha and one-third of its members retire every two years), revisionary house (reconsidering bills passed by the Lok Sabha) and offers a degree of continuity in the underlying policies of laws passed by parliament.

Along with this, Rajya Sabha also acts as a means to institutionalise the federal principle of power-sharing between the Centre and states.

However, the role and relevance of Rajya Sabha have been a matter of debate which can be traced from discussions in constituent assembly to recent times.

Constituent Assembly Debates Regarding Rajya Sabha

Against the Rajya Sabha

  • The section in the constituent assembly who was opposed to the idea of Rajya sabha held that an Upper House was not essential and opinionated that such a chamber can prove to be a “clog in the wheel of progress” of the nation, by delaying the legislative process.

In favour of Rajya Sabha

  • Proponents of the Rajya Sabha held that an upper chamber would lend a voice to the states in the legislative scheme of things and check the legislation passed in haste.

How the ‘Rajya Sabha’ is constituted?

The proceedings of the house are presided over by the Vice-President of India who is the ex-officio Chairman of the ‘Rajya Sabha’. The house elects a Deputy Chairman amongst its members. In addition, there is a Panel of Vice-Chairmen comprising of not more than 6 members. One of the members of the Vice-Chairmen panel presides over the proceedings of the House in the absence of the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman. The Chairman also appoints a Secretary-General who renders advice on critical parliamentary matters.

          Current laws have the provision for a maximum of 245 members in the ‘Rajya Sabha’. The ‘Lok Sabha’ members are directly elected by the people of India whereas the ‘Rajya Sabha’ members are indirectly elected by the legislatures of the state and the union territories with the aid of single transferable votes. Around 12 members of the house are appointed by the Chairman who have exemplary contributions in the world of literature, art, science and social services.

Role of Rajya Sabha

Safety Valve of India’s Federal Polity

  • Bicameralism is necessary for a federal constitution to give representation to the units of the federation.
  • While checks and balances usually operate between the executive, legislature and judiciary, the Council of States acts as a safety valve within the legislature itself, easing federal tensions.
  • Rajya Sabha thus represents a crucial component of the constitutional checks and balances scheme, in addition to the commonly identified examples of responsible government and judicial review.

Review and Revaluation Role

  • Indian constitution framers wanted to create a house that would act as arevisionary houseto keep a check on the hasty legislation that could be passed by the lower house under populist pressures.
  • Also, when the ruling dispensation has a brute majority in the Lok Sabha, Rajya sabha can prevent the government of the day exercising authoritarianism.

A Deliberative Body

  • Parliament is not only a legislative body but also a deliberative one which enables the members to debate major issues of public importance.
  • Thus, the role of the Upper House is to be a deliberative body besides balancing the “fickleness and passion” of the Lok Sabha.

Representing the Vulnerable Sections

  • Women, religious, ethnic and linguistic minority groups are not adequately represented in the Lok Sabha (due tofirst past the post-election system).
  • An indirect form of election (through proportional representation) to the Rajya Sabha, therefore, would give them a chance to get involved in the nation’s law-making process.
  • Thus, Rajya Sabha can make a place for people who may not be able to win a popular mandate.

Special Powers of Rajya Sabha

  • The Upper House also has some special powers, such as:
    • Power to transfer a subject from the State List to Union List for a specified period (Article 249).
    • To create additional All-India Services (Article 312).
    • To endorse Emergency under Article 352 for a limited period when the Lok Sabha remains dissolved.
    • Under Art. 67(b), Rajya Sabha may pass a resolution to remove the Vice- President. But, the Lok Sabha cannot, of its own right, raise such an issue.

Equal Powers of Rajya Sabha with Lok Sabha

When Parliament is bicameral, the distribution of powers between them becomes a complicated matter. While the Senate, the American second Chamber, is made more powerful than its counterpart, most of the countries have favoured the lower House. However, our Constitution has intended to strike a balance between them, though, ultimately, our Lok Sabha has been offered a preponderant position in some ways.

It is true that in some important matters, both the Houses have equal power. For example, regarding the ordinary Bills, the two Houses enjoy equal authority. Such Bills can be raised in either House and if passed there, they are sent to the other House. When it is accepted there, it is referred to the President for his assent which makes it a law. Thus, such a Bill cannot be a law without the discussion in both the Houses.

Regarding the impeachment of the President, the two Houses equally share power. Under Art. 61, the motion may be raised in either House and if it is accepted by the majority of its total members and also two-thirds of the members present and voting, it is sent to the other House. When the latter accepts it in the similar way, the President has to step down. In other words, neither of them can, unilaterally, oust him from the high office.

Under Art. 368, no amendment of the Constitution is possible unless two Houses agree on it. In other words, such a Bill must be passed by both the Houses.

Similarly, equal power has been given to them regarding the approval of Emergency provisions. The President can promulgate Emergency in three cases – national crisis, Constitutional breakdown and financial deadlock (Art. 352, Art. 356 and Art. 360). But the Presidential proclamation must be accepted by both the Houses.

Under Art. 54, the two Houses equally take part in the Presidential election. Similarly, Art. 66 states that they form an ‘electoral college’ in order to choose the Vice-President.

Last, but not the least, the Rajya Sabha can pass a resolution to drive out the Vice-President, but it requires the approval of the other House (Art. 67-b).

Issues Related to Rajya Sabha

No equal Representation of states

  • Federal countries like US, Australia, institutionalise the principle of federalism more strongly than India, by providing equal representation to all states in their upper houses.
  • This is in contrast with the Rajya Sabha, where states are represented proportionally to their relative populations.
  • For example, the number of seats allocated in Rajya Sabha to Uttar Pradesh alone is significantly higher than that of combined north-eastern states.

Bypassing the Rajya Sabha

  • In some cases, ordinary bills are being passed in the form of a Money Bill, circumventing the Rajya Sabha and giving rise to the question about the very efficacy of the upper house of Parliament.
  • This can be seen recently in the controversy related to Aadhar Act.
  • The Rajya Sabha can hardly regulate the tenure of the Cabinet because, according to Art. 75(3), the former is ‘responsible’ to the Lok Sabha. Of course, the former can criticise and condemn it for its follies. But, it can, by no means, pull it down.
  • With regard to the ordinary Bills, they have equal authority. In case of their difference, a joint sitting is convened. But as the total membership of the Rajya Sabha is less than even half of the total strength of the other House, the stand of the latter is likely to prevail in it.

Undermining of Federal character of Rajya Sabha

  • By way of the Representation of People (Amendment) Act, 2003, parliament has removed the word ‘domicile’ from Section 3 of Representation of People Act, 1951.
  • This essentially means that a person who does not belong to a state can contest the Rajya Sabha elections from that state of which they are neither a resident nor a domicile.
  • After the amendment, the seats in the Rajya Sabha have been used by the ruling party to get their defeated candidate in Lok Sabha, elected in Rajya Sabha.

Low Participation of Nominated Members

  • More recently, the sincerity of nominated members has been questioned in multiple instances.
  • Nominations are made by the government to satisfy the sentiments of the followers of certain personalities.
  • Once nominated, they rarely participate in the working of the house. Sachin Tendulkar was appointed in 2012 and the House has met 374 days since then, but the attendance of Sachin Tendulkar is a meagre 24 days.

Steps to Be Taken

  • To preserve the federal character of Rajya Sabha, one 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.
  • Also, a federal arrangement can be devised to enable equal representation for each state, so that large states do not dominate the proceedings in the House.
  • There is a need for a better procedure of nomination to improve the quality of discussion in the House.
    • A cue in this regard can be taken from the UK.
    • The House of Lords Act, 1999 has led to the introduction of the Appointments Commission in 2000 with the primary function of making recommendations for the appointment of non-party-political members to the House of Lords.
    • This commission can recommend nomination to Rajya Sabha from groups under-represented.

Summing Up

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. 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.

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