Current Public Administration Magazine (November - 2015) - Challenge before law and society

Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine

Polity, Constitution and Governance

The case for the Rajya Sabha

Another parliamentary session will be upon us in 10 days’ time. Both the government and the Opposition must be bracing for a stormy winter sitting. Besides routine obstructions in both Houses, the National Democratic Alliance is certain to be confronted once again with the inescapable reality that it is woefully short of a majority in the 245-member Rajya Sabha. We may hear yet again the now-familiar lament that the ‘indirectly elected’ Council of States is preventing the government of the day, with a comfortable majority in the ‘directly elected’ House of the People, from implementing its legislative agenda. However true this may ring to those worried by parliamentary logjams and those eager to see important legislative work getting done, the tendency to question the wisdom of having a bicameral legislature of the sort the Constitution provides ought to be avoided. Voices questioning the power of the Upper House to stall legislation passed by the Lok Sabha have been frequently heard under the present regime. Three months ago, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley called for a debate on whether an indirectly elected body could hold back reforms that had the approval of the elected majority in the Lok Sabha. Others have questioned what they term the Elders’ veto power. Is there really any necessity for reform in the role assigned to the Rajya Sabha? A clear understanding of its functions and relevance would make it clear that there is none.

Having a second chamber is not merely for ensuring checks and balances in the system. It is a mechanism devised to give the constituent States of the Union a say in running the country’s affairs. A permanent Upper House is also a check against any abrupt changes in the composition of the Lower House. At the same time, the Constitution preserves the primacy of the House of the People in money bills. Nor can the Upper House vote on demands for grants. In the event of a disagreement between the two Houses on a bill, the option of a joint sitting of both chambers is available. However, this will not apply to a money bill or a Constitution amendment. This constitutional scheme should not be trifled with just because of a political stalemate between the principal parties. Any such attempt would dilute the country’s federal character and weaken the ties between the Centre and the States. Governments that are keen on specific legislative measures must make pragmatic concessions and should adopt political moves to get them passed, instead of hoping that the numbers should always favour them. After all, multi-partisan cooperation is written into the idea that the Constitution can be amended only with a two-thirds majority in Parliament. It is equally true that far-reaching economic and social legislation ought not to be held hostage to any partisan blockade by the Opposition. What ought to change is not the system but the confrontationist politics that makes inefficient and partisan use of it.

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