In a Parliamentary form of government there are two types of structure that a country may adopt. One is unicameral legislature wherein a single house, assembly or chamber is present for law making. The second is bicameral legislature where two separate houses, assemblies or chambers are present that play a role in law making. In case of two houses, the members of both the houses are elected or selected by different means. Bicameral legislature has been adopted by around 80 countries in the world. There are different benefits and drawbacks of both the structures of legislature, however, the validity of having a 2nd house has been more frequently questioned time and again.
A bicameral legislature consists of two houses that involve in law making process. In such a legislature, the first house is generally directly elected by the people and represents the people. Whereas the second house is elected by different means and it serves as a check on the first house and it is known as the 2nd chamber or the upper house. The major functions of the 2nd chamber include functioning as a check on the first house, providing a platform for deliberative discussion on policies, providing for equal representation of certain sections of the society etc. In the world, around 80 countries have bicameral structure and the 2nd chambers in these countries have different levels of powers and functions as per the needs of the respective countries.
India also has a bicameral legislature with the two houses known as Lok Sabha or the lower house and the Rajya Sabha or the upper house. Not only at the central level but bicameral or unicameral legislature may also be adopted at the regional levels also. In India six states namely Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh have bicameral legislature in which the Lok Sabha equivalent is called as the Vidhan Sabha or the Legislative Assembly and the Rajya Sabha equivalent is called as the Vidhan Parishad or the Legislative Council.
History Of 2nd Chamber and How it was Introduced in India
As discussed, bicameralism is a legislative structure where the consent of two different houses or chambers is needed in order to make or change any law. This concept arose during 1787 at the time of adoption of the U.S Constitution. Followed by U.S several countries adopted the principle of bicameral legislature. In India, under the Montague Chelmsford Reforms proposals, the concept of a bicameral legislature was introduced for the first time. The reforms proposals formed the basis of the Government of India Act of 1919. Under this act, a bicameral central legislature with one house known as the Council of States having 60 members and other house known as the Legislative Assembly having 145 members was formed. The membership and the voting pattern of the Council of States was highly restrictive and confined to the elite class only and women were also not allowed to vote or seek membership. Subsequently, the Government of India Act, 1935 suggested reforms in the structure of legislature in order to improve it. However, as these suggestions never materialised so the structure adopted under the 1919 Act continued to exist till India’s independence in 1947.
After independence, the Constituent Assembly started to work on the structure of legislature that was to be adopted for India but without any efficient guidance from the past enactments. Due to this reason, serious debates and arguments took place in the Constituent Assembly in the matter of adopting a bicameral legislature. The members took into account the various examples of the bicameral structure that existed in other countries at that time and proper debate was held on both advantages and disadvantages of bicameral structure. The proposal for bicameral legislature underwent rigorous churning for 8 days and finally on 28 July 1947, the motion moved by the Union Constitution Committee (set up under the Constituent Assembly) that had made certain proposals for adoption of a 2nd chamber at the centre, was adopted by the Assembly. In March 1952, elections were held for the members of 2nd chamber or the upper house and on April 3, 1952, the Council of States or the 2nd chamber came into existence which held its first session in May 1952. In August 1954, the Council of States got the name of Rajya Sabha.
Role of Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils in India
In the Constituent Assembly different reasons were stated for adopting a bicameral legislature. The 2nd chamber or house was seen as the sobering and reviewing house. The Lok Sabha (or the Vidhan Sabha) members are elected by the people and there are chances of fickleness and passion of the moment that may guide certain policy decisions which would be harmful in the long run. In such a scenario, the Rajya Sabha (or the Vidhan Parishad) would perform the role of a deliberative house that would reflect upon the decisions taken by the Lok Sabha and would go for evaluative reasoning hence preventing any hasty decision of the Lok Sabha from becoming a law. Another reason for adopting a 2nd house was the diversity of India. India is the 2nd most populated country in the world, and it has a wide variety of people belonging to different castes, having different socio-economic interests, belonging to ethno-cultural minorities etc. A 2nd house would serve the purpose of allowing different principles of representation thereby allowing people from diverse sections to contribute to law making process.
The Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies of the states represent people according to the geographical constituency. The 2nd house serves as a representation of territorial units, specific communities based on religion, ethnicity etc, other socio-economic classes etc. It also serves as a forum for academicians and intellectuals who would otherwise face difficulty to work in the rough and tumble of the elected house. The 2nd chamber also plays a crucial role of a democratic check on the lower house. The Lok Sabha or the Vidhan Sabhas are elected by the people. If only single house is present in the legislature and a party wins majority then it will gain unlimited control over the legislative powers. A 2nd chamber formed by means of a different electoral procedure and having a different composition will serve as a necessary check. Lastly, the 2nd chamber functions in a manner to initiate proposals for public policy in order to elicit responsiveness from the elected members and hold the government accountable for the policy decisions.
Why is There Debate on Need of 2nd Chamber?
The debate on the need of a 2nd chamber is not a new one. As has been discussed above, this debate had found its place in the Constituent Assembly. Not only in the debates held in the Constituent Assembly but even after enactment of the Constitution the concerns over an additional house were expressed by several factions of the society. One issue is that, over the years it has been noted that the 2nd chamber has become a duplicate of the lower house and it is deemed as an unnecessary duplication that puts extra burden on the exchequer. The removal of “domicile” requirement in the election of member to Rajya Sabha as mandated by the Representation of the People Act, 1951 by the Supreme Court in 2006 is another blow that has diluted the diversity that differentiated the Rajya Sabha from the Lok Sabha.
Another issue is the corruption that surrounds the election of members into the 2nd chamber. In 2016, corruption charges arose in the election of members to Rajya Sabha as the elections were crucial for both the majority party in Lok Sabha to gain control over the 2nd house and for the opposition to act as a necessary check against the majority party. Similar charges have been a cause of concern which states that the 2nd chamber has become a means for the majority party to allot seats to their candidates who failed to secure one in the Lok Sabha. The presence of 2nd chamber is also seen as an escape route for the elected member who can blame the 2nd chamber for failure of policies. The law-making procedure also becomes lengthy, complicated and slow and chances of deadlock arise in the presence of two houses.
India has 6 states that have bicameral legislature besides these states, Assam and Rajasthan had applied for adoption of 2nd chamber in 2013 and the bills have been pending in the Parliament since then. Similarly, Odisha in 2016 also decided to opt for a 2nd chamber in the legislature. However, the pending bills are an indication that such matter fail to garner much support. The disadvantages of the 2nd chamber are seen as a high cost to pay for the benefits that it can provide. Due to the disadvantages certain Legislative Councils have been abolished in India like the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council abolished in 1986, West Bengal, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh Legislative Councils abolished in 1969 etc. This conflict between the ideas for and against the 2nd chamber has resulted in constant debates over the need of the 2nd chamber.
Procedure of Formation of 2nd Chamber in India
India adopted bicameral legislature after independence for the central government. However, the choice to adopt a unicameral or bicameral legislature for the states had been left with the state governments. The Constitution has explicitly mentioned the manner in which a Legislative Council (2nd chamber or the state equivalent of Rajya Sabha) can be formed under Article 169. As per the article “Parliament may by law provide for the abolition of the Legislative Council of a state having such a Council or for the creation of such a Council in a state having no such Council, if the Legislative Assembly of the state passes a resolution to that effect by a majority of the total membership of the Assembly and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the Assembly present and voting.” The members of the Legislative Councils serve for a six-year term and the terms of members are staggered so that terms of one-third members expire every two years in the same way as for the Rajya Sabha.
The size of the Legislative Council shall not be more than one-third of the strength of the Legislative Assembly and it should not have less than 40 members. The members of Legislative Council are from different fields. As per the Constitution, ‘one-third members are to be elected by electorates consisting of members of municipalities, district boards and other similar local authorities as specified by the law of the Parliament, one-twelfth are to be elected by electorates consisting of persons residing in the state and who are graduates for three years or who have equivalent qualification to a graduate as prescribed by the law of Parliament, one-twelfth are to be elected by electorates of persons who have been engaged for at least 3 years as teachers in institutions not lower than secondary schools, one-third are to be elected by the members of Legislative Assembly from amongst persons who are not members of the Assembly and the remainder one-sixth are to be nominated by the Governor from the fields of literature, science, arts, cooperative movement and social service.’
Comparison with Other Countries
U.S Senate is an example of 2nd chamber. The 2nd chamber in U.S was adopted to ensure representation of states, provinces or regions. Here the members are elected by states provinces either directly by the people of each unit or by indirect means like by the sub national legislatures. In U.S, the Senate has extensive veto powers over almost all legislations, and it has significant power in relation to matters concerning the states. In U.S, only the House of Representatives can initiate spending bills however the Senate alone is responsible for confirming presidential appointments and it only presides over the presidential impeachment proceedings. In Germany, the Bundesrat represents the upper house. The Bundesrat has the power to consider and vote on all issues that directly relate to the states and any bill that may affect the states have to be passed by Bundesrat. Over the time, Bundesrat has grown to include the oversight of the elected body i.e. Bundestag for matters relating to states. In case of bills related to concurrent legislative powers and bills related to states both the houses hold equal powers for the passage of bills however in other matter, the veto imposed by Bundesrat can be overturned by the Bundestag but only with the same majority as used by the Bundesrat.
The U.K Parliament also has a bicameral structure. The House of Lords represents the upper house in U.K. The House of Lords had extensive powers, but repeated protests have led to significant reduction in its powers and the lower house or the House of Commons has emerged as the central law-making body. Even with reduced veto powers and only limited power to delay the policy approval, the House of Lords functions as a house for review and scrutiny of policies proposed by the lower house. Spain also has a bicameral structure with the lower house known as the Congress of Deputies and the upper house known as the Senate. The Senate in Spain has certain extent of powers to delay the legislations passed by the lower house. However, an absolute majority is needed to exercise such veto power. Even if the Senate uses veto power to delay legislation then it can do so for two months within which the lower house may override the veto by an absolute majority or if two months have passed then the lower house still has the power to override the veto within the next two months by a simple majority.
In a bicameral structure of government, the 2nd chamber is seen as a necessary check on the elected lower house. In order to reduce the monopoly of the elected members and to establish a house that is deliberative, and which provides space for calm consideration and debate on legislations, the 2nd chamber has been adopted by certain countries. Though the 2nd chamber has its own benefits, it has a fair share of disadvantage as well. The additional expenditure on member of 2nd house, delay in law making process, situation of deadlock etc are some of the issues that can be seen in bicameral legislature. In order to decide the need for a bicameral legislature it is essential to consider few points like is the country having a wide diversity and whether certain sections of the population are minorities that need adequate representation? Does the country need additional checks and balances against the first house and if so can these checks be provided by other Constitutional means that restrict the monopoly of the elected house? Is there a need for equal representation and participation in the law-making process? etc. However, the powers of the 2nd chamber as an individual body and in relation to the elected house need to be specified as per the needs of the legislature and not merely to slow down the law-making process.