Issue The role that the Rajya Sabha needs to play in the Indian body politic today.
Significance of Rajya Sabha It drew attention to the fact that electoral victory to the lower House may entitle a party to rule but not necessarily to govern.
Rationale of the House In the Constituent Assembly debates a set of four distinct reasons advanced in defence of the Rajya Sabha is found.
Exclusive powers of Rajya Sabha different from its counterparts in other countries The power to transfer a subject from the State List to Union List for a specified period.
Why diversity in Rajya Sabha has decreased The removal of the domicile requirement mandated by the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Importance of Rajya sabha in future The thinning out of difference between the two Houses of the Indian Parliament, however, does not make the Rajya Sabha superfluous.
Direction of reform Muslims, women, urban informal labour and the rural poor could be some of the diverse constituencies the Rajya Sabha represents.
- The role that the Rajya Sabha needs to play in the Indian body politic today.
Significance of Rajya Sabha
- While the Rajya Sabha has generally played second fiddle to the Lok Sabha during the periods when a single part used to be in majority in both the Houses but it has become an important platform of resistance to the majoritarianism of the Lok Sabha during the Janata regime (1977-79), National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule (1998-2004), UPA II (2009-2014) and in the last two years of NDA rule.
- It drew attention to the fact that electoral victory to the lower House may entitle a party to rule but not necessarily to govern unless it reaches out and engages with the central concerns and interests embedded in the polity. This was clearly voiced in the resistance the proposed amendment to the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act in 2015.
Rationale of the House
- Unfortunately there has not been much reflection with regard to the nature and purpose of this House in India after the brilliant debate in this regard in the Constituent Assembly.
In the Constituent Assembly debates a set of four distinct reasons advanced in defence of the Rajya Sabha is found.
- First, some members of the Assembly saw it as a House of reflective and evaluative reasoning removed from the hurry-scurry of everyday life. M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar thought that in such a platform of reflective consideration, “the genius of people may have full play”, and it can make place for people “who may not be able to win a popular mandate”.
- Second, apart from the review and revaluation role, there was a broad consensus in the Assembly for the need for a second legislative chamber to initiate proposals for public policy, to elicit responsiveness from public authority, and to hold governments accountable. The constitutional provisions on division of work between the Houses clearly bear it out. However, in this conception, the Rajya Sabha largely duplicates the functions of the Lok Sabha.
- Such an understanding has led to repeated introduction of private members’ bills in the Lok Sabha for the abolition of the Rajya Sabha, as well as moves by the enthusiasts of the House to introduce bills to widen its jurisdiction.
- A third conception saw the House as the authoritative platform to accommodating diversity, although much of this consideration laid emphasis on political diversity reflecting federal arrangements, drawing parallels with the United States in the process. In this conception while the Lower House was meant to represent the citizen-community at large, the Upper House, primarily voted in by elected members of the State Assemblies, would represent the nation “as a differentiated whole”.
Exclusive powers of Rajya Sabha different from its counterparts in other countries
- The power to transfer a subject from the State List to Union List for a specified period
- To create additional All-India Services
- To endorse Emergency under Article 352 for a limited period when the Lok Sabha remains dissolved.
- While it does not have the power to approve money bills, it can offer its own suggestions on them, and while it has no representation in the Estimates Committee, its members have a proportionate share in all other committees of the Parliament, including those closely linked with financial dealings such as the Public Accounts Committee, Committee on Public Undertakings and the Standing Committees related to Ministries/Departments.
Why diversity in Rajya Sabha has decreased
- The removal of the domicile requirement mandated by the Representation of the People Act, 1951, by the five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in 2006 in Kuldip Nayar v. Union of India and Others has further watered down the mark of diversity that was the hallmark of the Rajya Sabha.
- Thus the Rajya Sabha has turned out to be another chamber of the Parliament akin to the Lok Sabha, except for the mode of selection of its members.
- Domicile Requirement– Earlier a candidate had to be a voter in the State from where he was to be elected. This requirement was dispensed with through the amendment in August 2003.
Importance of Rajya sabha in future
- The thinning out of difference between the two Houses of the Indian Parliament, however, does not make the Rajya Sabha superfluous.
- Given the articulation of the Indian polity, in the foreseeable future the party composition of the Houses will be markedly varied in the two Houses.
- It can ensure, at least to the extent constitutional provisions go, that the majoritarian thrust of the Lower House does not undermine rule of law and public institutions. It is to the credit of the Rajya Sabha that it has come to play this role at critical junctures.
- In this context it might be important that the nature and role of the Rajya Sabha be revisited, rather than merely think of it as the parking lot for those who cannot ensure their election from a popular constituency.
Direction of reform
- In addition to its present role of representation and accountability, the Rajya Sabha could be the House that represents difference in our polity, difference marked not merely by its culture but its diversity.
- There are some constituencies which will never be able to ensure their adequate representation through the electoral route: Muslims; women; linguistic, religious and ethnic diversity; regions such as the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir; urban informal labour; the rural poor, just to name a few constituencies. The Constituent Assembly debates, and the need for the Upper House to be embedded, are a sufficient justification in this regard.
- Muslims, women, urban informal labour and the rural poor could be some of the diverse constituencies the Rajya Sabha represents.