The Rajya Sabha recently bade farewell to 72 members retiring this year as Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed their contribution and MPs fondly reminisced on their experiences.
In this article, we will discuss and analyze the journey, significance and achievements of the Upper House of Parliament – Rajya Sabha.
The Rajya Sabha
- The Rajya Sabha or Council of States is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament.
- It currently has a maximum membership of 245, of which 233 are elected by the legislatures of the states and union territories using single transferable votes through Open Ballot.
- The President can appoint 12 members for their contributions to art, literature, science, and social services.
- Members sit for terms lasting six years, with elections every year but almost a third of the 233 designates up for election every two years, specifically in even-numbered years.
A Historical background
- The Rajya Sabha came into being on April 3, 1952, and held its first session on May 13 the same year.
- The Constituent Assembly, which was formed in 1947, after the adoption of the Constitution became the Provisional Parliament and made laws till 1952.
Before its existence
- The central legislature that came into being under the Government of India Act, 1919 was bicameral.
- Under 1919 Act, Council of States had 60 members and Legislative Assembly had 145 members.
- The membership and voting norms for the Council of States were restrictive. These restrictions meant only wealthy landowners, merchants and those with legislative experience could enter it.
- Women could neither vote nor seek membership.
- The Government of India Act, 1935 proposed an elaborate and improved version of the second chamber, but this never materialized.
Elections to the Rajya Sabha
Article 84 of the Constitution lays down the qualifications for membership of Parliament. A member of the Rajya Sabha must:
- Be a citizen of India;
- Be at least 30 years old. (Article 84 constitution of India)
- Be elected by the Legislative Assembly of States and UTs by means of the single transferable vote through proportional representation.
- Not be: a proclaimed criminal, a subject of an insolvent, of unsound mind.
- Not hold any other office of profit under the Government of India.
- Possess such other qualifications as may be prescribed in that behalf by or under any law made by Parliament.
In addition, twelve members are nominated by the President of India having special knowledge in various areas like arts and science. However, they are not entitled to vote in Presidential elections as per Article 55 of the Constitution.
- Candidates fielded by political parties have to be proposed by at least 10 members of the Assembly or 10% of the party’s strength in the House, whichever is less.
- For independents, there should be 10 proposers, all of whom should be members of the Assembly.
- Voting is by single transferable vote, as the election is held on the principle of proportional representation.
- A single transferable vote means electors can vote for any number of candidates in order of their preference.
- A candidate requires a specified number of first preference votes to win. Each first choice vote has a value of 100 in the first round.
- To qualify, a candidate needs one point more than the quotient obtained by dividing the total value of the number of seats for which elections are taking place plus one.
- The formula simply is [(Number of MLAs X 100) / (Vacancies + 1)] + 1.
Example: If there are four seats and 180 MLAs voting, the qualifying number will be 180/5= 36 votes or value of 3,600.
Note: The Rajya Sabha polls have a system of the open ballot, but it is a limited form of openness. There is a system of each party MLA showing his or her marked ballots to the party’s authorised agent (called Whip), before they are put into the ballot box.
The NOTA option has been struck down by the Supreme Court in RS elections.
The Power Equation: Lok Sabha Vs. Rajya Sabha
The Indian Constitution provides for parity of powers between the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in law, making an exception in some cases.
The Money Bill or Finance Bills can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha which only can approve the Demands for Grants.
On the other hand, the Rajya Sabha has some special powers as requiring adopting a resolution allowing Parliament to legislate on subjects in the State List and creating All India Services, besides approving proclamations of Emergency and President’s Rule when the Lok Sabha is dissolved.
Renowned British philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill as early as in 1861 said in his great treatise Considerations on Representative Government that management of free institutions requires conciliation; a readiness to compromise; a willingness to concede something to opponents and mutual give and take. Truly, Rajya sabha plays this role in Indian legislature.
In detail: Powers and Functions of the Rajya Sabha
 Legislative Powers:
- In the sphere of ordinary law-making, the Rajya Sabha enjoys equal powers with the Lok Sabha. An ordinary bill can be introduced in the Rajya Sabha and it cannot become a law unless passed by it.
- In case of a deadlock between the two Houses of Parliament over an ordinary bill and if it remains unresolved for six months, the President can convene a joint sitting of the two Houses for resolving the deadlock.
- This joint sitting is presided over by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. But if the deadlock is not resolved, the bill is deemed to have been killed.
 Financial Powers:
- In the financial sphere, the Rajya Sabha is a weak House.
- A money bill cannot be introduced in the Rajya Sabha. It can be initiated only in the Lok Sabha.
- A money bill passed by the Lok Sabha comes before the Rajya Sabha for its consideration.
 Executive Powers:
- Members of the Rajya Sabha can exercise some control over the ministers by criticizing their policies, by asking questions and moving motions etc.
- Some of the ministers are also taken from the Rajya Sabha. The PM can also be from Rajya Sabha if the majority party in the Lok Sabha may elect/adopt him as its leader.
 Electoral Powers:
- The Rajya Sabha has some electoral powers also. The elected members of the Rajya Sabha along with the elected members of the Lok Sabha and all the State Legislative Assemblies together elect the President of India.
- The members of the Rajya Sabha Lok Sabha together elect the Vice- President of India.
- Members of the Rajya Sabha also elect a Deputy Chairman from amongst themselves.
 Judicial Powers:
- The RS acting along with the Lok Sabha can impeach the President on charges of violation of the Constitution.
- The RS can also pass a special address for causing the removal of a judge of the Supreme Court or of any High Court.
- The charges against the Vice-President can be levelled only in the RS.
- The RS can pass a resolution for the removal of some high officers like the Attorney General of India, Comptroller and Auditor General and Chief Election Commissioner.
 Miscellaneous Powers:
The Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha jointly perform the following functions:
- Approval of the ordinances issued by the President,
- Ratification of an emergency proclamation,
- Making any change in the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, and
- Making any change in the qualifications for the membership of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
 Exclusive Powers
The Rajya Sabha enjoys two exclusive powers:
(i) The Power to declare a Subject of State List as a subject of National Importance:
The Rajya Sabha can pass a resolution by 2/3rd majority of its members for declaring a State List subject as a subject of national importance. Such a resolution empowers the Union Parliament to legislate on such a state subject for a period of one year. Such resolutions can be repeatedly passed by the Rajya Sabha.
(ii) Power in respect of Creation or Abolition of an All India Service:
The Rajya Sabha has the power to create one or more new All India Services. It can do so by passing a resolution supported by 2/3rd majority on the plea of national interest. In a similar way, the Rajya Sabha can disband an existing All India Service.
Limitations to its powers
The Constitution places some restrictions on Rajya Sabha; the Lok Sabha is more powerful in certain areas as such:
1. Money bills
- A money bill can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha by a minister and only on recommendation of President of India.
- When the Lok Sabha passes a money bill then the Lok Sabha sends money bill to the Rajya Sabha for 14 days during which it can make recommendations.
- Even if Rajya Sabha fails to return the money bill in 14 days to the Lok Sabha, that bill is deemed to have passed by both the Houses.
Also, if the Lok Sabha rejects any (or all) of the amendments proposed by the Rajya Sabha, the bill is deemed to have been passed. Hence, Rajya Sabha can only give recommendations for a money bill but Rajya Sabha cannot amend a money bill.
There is no joint sitting of both the houses with respect to money bills, because all final decisions are taken by the Lok Sabha.
2. Joint Sitting of the Parliament
- Article 108 provides for a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament in certain cases.
- Considering that the numerical strength of Lok Sabha is more than twice that of Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha tends to have a greater influence in a joint sitting of Parliament. A joint session is chaired by the Speaker of Lok Sabha.
Joint sessions of Parliament are a rarity, and have been convened only three times in last 71 years, for the purpose of passage of a specific legislative act, the latest time being in 2002:
- 1961: Dowry Prohibition Act, 1958
- 1978: Banking Services Commission (Repeal) Act, 1977
- 2002: Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002
3. No confidence motion:
- The Union Council of Ministers is collectively responsible before the Lok Sabha and not the Rajya Sabha.
- Lok Sabha alone can cause the fall of the Council of Ministers by passing a vote of no-confidence.
Rajya Sabha: A destructionist?
- An analysis by the Secretariat revealed that the productivity of the Rajya Sabha till 1997 has been 100% and above and the past 23 years have thrown up a disturbing trend of rising disruptions.
- This decline is primarily on account of disruptions forcing cancellation of Question Hour frequently.
- Disruptions also dent the quality of law-making as seen in passing of Bills without discussion sometimes.
- However, the Rajya Sabha is proving to be more and more a ‘deliberative’ body with increasingly more time being spent on this function.
- According to various members of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha has done nothing except stalling legislative works and causing policy paralysis in the country.
- For critics, the Upper House serves no purpose as its members are not directly elected and hence are not accountable to the people.
- Rajya Sabha often has members from the party defeated in various elections, or are from political families, and due to political differences, they do not allow passage of important bills.
- So many extra members are an added burden on exchequer which can be done away with.
- Politics of boycotting and creating ruckus in the house and toeing on the party-line even on the issue that won’t attract disqualification provisions is a worrying thing.
- At the same time, in terms of working, Rajya Sabha does not have sufficient powers in financial matters to bring any change and they are without any direct public interaction. Hence its purpose in modern democracy seems outdated.
Importance of Rajya Sabha and Why It Should Continue
- According to President Radhakrishnan, there are functions, which a revising chamber like Rajya Sabha can fulfil fruitfully. Parliament is not only a legislative but a deliberative body. So far as its deliberative functions are concerned, Rajya Sabha has made very valuable contributions time and again.
- It’s true that party dynamics affects the working of Rajya Sabha. But in democracy passion often defeat the normal rationality. Thus a revising house is needed to check such adrenal rush.
- While the argument of members not able to win in direct elections holds true, but retaining talent is essential for any democratic system. Losing valuable talent during election fervours has mostly been corrected by Rajya Sabha. It has also given entry to other experts like scientist, artist, sportsmen etc that can rarely face the electoral politics.
- While Lok Sabha have members for each state, the Hindi belt domination is a constant theme. Hence other state interests, like those in North East, have always been taken up by the Rajya Sabha.
- While it can’t bring no confidence motion or amend money bill, its role in checking arbitrariness of government as reflected in Land Ordinance, is necessary in democracy. Besides its special role in All India Services, legislation in State List too necessitates its existence.
- Men and women of prodigious talent and calibre have adorned the benches of the upper house and have contributed significantly towards realising the vision of the founding fathers of the Constitution.
- A permanent Upper House is also a check against any abrupt changes in the composition of the Lower House.
- Rajya Sabha has continuity and is a permanent house.
- Unlike Lok Sabha, it cannot be dissolved by anyone. Thus it has, time and often, carried out some administrative functions even when the lower house is dissolved. It has members with experienced players while there may be new entrants in the Lok Sabha.
By virtue of this, Rajya Sabha can’t be said to be ‘obstructive’.
A study of the powers of the Rajya Sabha leads us to the conclusion that it is neither a very weak house like the British House of Lords nor a very powerful house as the American Senate. Its position is somewhat mid-way between the two. It has been less powerful than Lok Sabha but it has been not a very weak or insignificant House.
Instead of engaging in the debate of if we need upper house or not, more constructive outlook would be improve it’s functioning. Clearly, the recommendations are present from NCRWC to 2nd ARC. The need is implementation and political support.