[dropcap]W[/dropcap]HAT happens when the ruling dispensation has a brute majority in the Lok Sabha but finds its work stymied in the house of elders because they don’t have the numbers there? What we have witnessed in the recent past is legislation being bulldozed through the ordinance route or by way of a Money Bill, circumventing the Rajya Sabha and giving rise to the question about the very efficacy of the upper house of Parliament. No wonder then that the debate on the urgent need for parliamentary reform has become louder, making this an opportune moment to look back on what our constitution framers had in mind when they conceptualized the Rajya Sabha and to consider what may be done to make the upper house a far more effective and representative body.
Rationale behind existence of the upper house
The primary motive behind the creation of the upper house was to realize federalism in letter and spirit. “The need has been felt for a second chamber practically all over the world wherever there are federations of importance,” Gopalaswami Ayyangar said in the Constituent Assembly. Political scientists agree that bicameralism is necessary for a federal constitution to give representation to the units of the federation, in view of the fact that the lower house is elected on a territorial and population basis.
Our constitution framers also wanted to create a house that would act as a revisiting house to keep a check on the legislation that could be passed by the lower house in the heat of the moment. And then, there is an inevitable din and bustle with a direct form of election that would involve money and the flexing of political muscle. Women, religious, ethnic and linguistic minority groups could have never been able to adequately represent themselves in the Lok Sabha. An indirect form of election to the Rajya Sabha, therefore, would give them a chance to get involved in the nation’s law-making process. As Ayyangar said, the Rajya Sabha can make a place for people “who may not be able to win a popular mandate”.
Towards effective nomination
The primary intent behind the conception of the Rajya Sabha was to create a house that would encourage debates and discussions over important issues, free from any kind of political motives. Currently, only 12 members are nominated and the remaining are more often than not, persons with party affiliations. This gives prominence to a party ideology rather than national interest.
In its meeting convened on August 24, 1947, the Union Constituent Committee had recommended 15 members to be nominated to the Council of States. The number was later diluted to 12, making it practically unfeasible for a well-informed debate to take place where experts from the fields enumerated could contribute to nation-building.
More recently, the sincerity of nominated members has been questioned in multiple instances. Nominations are made by the government to satisfy the sentiments of the followers of certain personalities, e.g. Lata Mangeshkar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rekha. Once nominated, they rarely participate in the working of the house. Sachin and Rekha were both appointed in 2012 and the House has met 374 days since then, but the attendance of Sachin is a meagre twenty-four while that of Rekha a mere 18 days.
This calls for a better procedure of nomination to improve the quality of discussion in the House. A cue in this regard can be taken from the UK. The House of Lords Act, 1999 has led to the introduction of the Appointments Commission in 2000 with the primary function of making recommendations for the appointment of non-party-political members to the House of Lords. An article in the Times pointed out that half the appointments on recommendation of the commission came from groups under-represented in the House of Lords. The step has certainly made the members more accountable in the democratic system.
Restoring the federal structure
Steps also need to be taken back to conserve grass-roots federalism. By way of the Representation of People (Amendment) Act, 2003, parliament has removed the word ‘domicile’ from Section 3 of Representation of People Act, 1951. This essentially means that a person who does not belong to a state can contest the Rajya Sabha elections from that state of which they are neither a resident nor a domicile.
A representative not well versed with the ground realities of the state cannot be relied upon to effectively represent the interest of the State at the Union level. The elections are indirect and the voters do not get an opportunity to reject the “outsider”. Also, members of the state legislature cannot be expected to go against their particular party in opposing the candidate from outside the state. Thus, there is no resistance to a political party if it fields a candidate with no understanding of the conditions prevalent in the state.
The Rajya Sabha according to the constitutional scheme is a political institution that acts as a flag bearer for the federal nature of our Constitution. The essence of such a representative body of the state is that the people representing the state at the Union are well versed with the issues of that state.
After the amendment, the seats in the Rajya Sabha have been used by the ruling party to get their unelected candidate, the privilege of being a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha and to hold important cabinet positions, including that of the Prime Minister. For the Rajya Sabha to fulfil its constitutional imperative, government and civil society must deliberate on what needs to be done to make it a strong, effective and representative house that gives voice to the under-represented while at the same time strengthening our federal democratic structure.
A.D., Vol IV, 927.
Dr Justice DD Basu, Commentary on the Constitution of India 60 (25th ed., S C Sarkar& Sons 1983).Dr Durga Das Basu, Shorter Constitution of India 704 (14th ed., 2009).
Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution, Select Documents (Universal Press 1967).
Dr Justice DD Basu, Commentary on the Constitution of India 60 (25th ed., S C Sarkar& Sons 1983).