Q.Discuss the role and relevance of Rajya Sabha in Indian polity. Examine how the constitution makers had envisaged the role of Rajya Sabha vis a vis Lok Sabha. (10 marks, 150 words, GS-2)
About the Rajya Sabha–
- The first para to be about the Rajya Sabha and its constitution.
- The next para could be about the role of the House.
- Third para to include the issues in the working of the Rajya Sabha.
- Concluding with how to improve the efficiency and working of Rajya Sabha.
- The maximum strength of the Rajya Sabha is fixed at 250, out of which, 238 are to be the representatives of the states and union territories (elected indirectly) and 12 are nominated by the president.
- The representatives of states are elected by the elected members of state legislative assemblies.
- The representatives of each union territory are indirectly elected by members of an electoral college specially constituted for the purpose
- The seats are allotted to the states in the Rajya Sabha on the basis of the population.
- The Rajya Sabha (first constituted in 1952) is a permanent body and not subject to dissolution.
- However, one-third of its members retire every second year.
- The retiring members are eligible for re-election and renomination any number of times.
- The Constitution has not fixed the term of office of members of the Rajya Sabha and left it to the Parliament.
- Accordingly, the Parliament in the Representation of the People Act (1951) provided that the term of office of a member of the Rajya Sabha shall be six years.
- Special Powers of Rajya Sabha include:
- It can authorize the Parliament to make a law on a subject enumerated in the State List (Article 249).
- It can authorize the Parliament to create new All-India Services common to both the Centre and states (Article 312).
Role of the House–
In the Constituent Assembly debates a set of diverse 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. A. 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”.
- 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.”
Issues in the working of Rajya Sabha-
- Loss of deliberations in deliberative body:
- Far from being deliberative, the Rajya Sabha appears to have descended into the same fickleness and passion as the Lok Sabha and has shown a disconcerting trend away from the decorum expected from it.
- Instead, Rajya Sabha has become a haven for losers in elections, crony capitalists, compromised journalists and party fundraisers.
- Decreasing level of debates and discussions. Also, because Allocation of time to speak in the House is based on the strength of the party
- The Upper House acts as a clog in the wheel of progress:
- The structure and the electoral process of the RS have been deliberately designed to provide the necessary checks and balance on the powers of the central government.
- Both temporal and spatial dominance are importantto gain a majority in the Upper House.
- Therefore, the opposition parties gang up to block Bills in the Upper House
- Diversity in Rajya Sabha has decreased
- 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.
- 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.
Some believe the RS must be abolished as it has outlived its utility. But, for the reality check- It is virtually impossible to abolish the Rajya Sabha without adopting a new Indian Constitution. 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.
Even if this were to be tested, it would be ensnared in a judicial process for a very long time. It is much more practical to try and reform the Rajya Sabha than seeking to abolish it.
- One 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. However, 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.
- 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.
- Most importantly, it needs to be seen as a House brimming with talented policymakers.
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