Why Rajya Sabha is essential: It represents the states and
balances an impetuous Lok Sabha
India, December 26, 2015
Pavan K Varma*
My friend Jay Panda
is a distinguished member of the Lok Sabha, not the Rajya Sabha.
But he has an interest in the ?reform? of the Rajya Sabha that i
fully respect because i believe it is animated by the
well-intentioned motive of how to make our combined Parliament
It was Finance
Minister Arun Jaitley who first mooted this subject last August
when he said that time has come to debate whether an
?indirectly? elected House like Rajya Sabha can hold up
proposals approved by the directly elected Lok Sabha which
?represents the will of the people?. It is true that the Rajya
Sabha is indirectly elected by the members of legislative
assemblies of states on the basis of proportional
representation. However, even so, it is very different from an
appointed House of Lords.
Moreover, the system
of checks and balances of a bi-cameral Parliament need to be
understood without positing the relationship between the two
Houses as adversarial. Jaitley?s frustration with Rajya Sabha to
which he belongs is, perhaps, understandable. With an absolute
majority in Lok Sabha, BJP faces uncomfortable questions in the
Rajya Sabha where it is in a minority.
?discomfort? was precisely the intention of the far- sighted
makers of our Constitution, as can be seen from extensive
discussions on the relevance of a second chamber in the
Constituent Assembly. Finally, the makers of our Constitution
decided that in a federal system reflecting the size and
diversity of India, the Council of States was necessary.
In creating Rajya
Sabha, our Constitution took care to make crucial differences
with Lok Sabha. The council of ministers is collectively
responsible to Lok Sabha which means that the Rajya Sabha cannot
make the government fall; a money bill can only be introduced in
Lok Sabha; the Rajya Sabha can discuss it, make recommendations,
but not amend it; the national budget, finance bill, and demand
for grants of various ministries can be discussed but not voted
in Rajya Sabha; however, a Constitution amendment bill needs the
specific approval of both Houses.
In addition, Rajya
Sabha has two exclusive powers: it can with the support of
two-thirds of its members delist a subject under the exclusive
State List and declare it to be of national importance,
empowering Parliament to legislate on it; and it can create one
or more new All India Services.
above is only to show that considerable thought has gone into
the constitution and powers of Rajya Sabha. Do we need to
denigrate or dilute or modify it only because of the current
impasse on certain bills like GST, or solely because of the
recent display of unacceptably indecorous behavior for which all
parties are responsible and need to introspect?
The Lok Sabha
certainly represents the people directly. But, there can
conceivably be a situation where a party in the Lok Sabha has an
absolute majority in which there is, for instance, not a single
representative from south of the Vindhyas. Would not those
states not in the ruling dispensation need a second chamber
where their interests find due reflection?
Again, a political
party with an absolute Lok Sabha majority could, under the
pressure of the Whip system, pass inadequate or ill-considered
bills. Should such bills not be given another consideration in a
second House conceived precisely for this purpose?
The real imperative
is to ensure that Parliament functions according to existing
rules of decorum and etiquette. A serious resolve by both
Treasury Benches and the Opposition to abjure unproductive and
unseemly disruptions and resurrect the grandeur of debate, and
not hastily devised proposals for changing the intricate balance
of a carefully devised Parliamentary structure, is what is
Panda?s proposal to pattern the Rajya Sabha on the model of the
US Senate will achieve little because even elections on this
basis will have candidates backed by political parties.
Countries can always learn from the best constitutional
practices of other democracies. But proposals for emulation
based on transient causes for impatience are hardly good enough
reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
represents JD(U) in Rajya Sabha
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