Council conundrum

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Context:

  • Odisha’s plan calls for a national policy on the utility of a second chamber in States.
  • If there was any real benefit in having a Legislative Council, all States in the country should, and arguably would, have a second chamber. 

Background:

  • Odisha is the latest state which wants to join the group of States that have an Upper House.
  • The Odisha government had set up a committee in 2015 to study the Legislative Councils in other States and recommend for establishment of one in the State.
  • Based on the committee’s report, the State Cabinet has approved a 49-member Legislative Council.
  • A resolution will be brought in the monsoon session of the Assembly for the formation of Odisha Legislative Council.

Legislative Councils in Indian Constitution:

  • Indian Constitution does not force a bicameral legislature on states. It gives states the option of having a second House.

Process of creation of Legislative Council:

  • The process of creating an Upper House is lengthy.
  • Article 169 of the Constitution of India provides for the establishment of a Vidhan Parishad or Legislative Council.
  • The Legislative Assembly of the State first passes a resolution for creation of Legislative Council by special majority – 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.
  • Thereafter, Parliament has to enact a law to create it.

Composition (Article 171):

  • The total number of members in the Legislative Council of a State shall not exceed one third of the total number of members in the Legislative Assembly of that State, but shall in no case be less than 40.
  • They are elected by MLAs (1/3rd), local bodies (1/3rd), legislative assembly (1/3rd), graduates (1/12th), teacher (1/12th) while the rest are nominated by the Governor.
  • Parliament by law can change the composition of the Legislative Council of a State.

Advantages and Limitation of Upper House in States:

Advantages:

  • Forum for academicians and intellectuals: An Upper House provides a forum for academicians and intellectuals, who are arguably not suited for the rough and tumble of electoral politics.
  • Informed debates on legislation: At least on paper, it provides a mechanism for a more sober and considered appraisal of legislation that a State may pass.

Limitations:

  • Accomodating unelected politicians: Rather than fulfilling the lofty objective of getting intellectuals into the legislature, the forum is likely to be used to accommodate party functionaries who fail to get elected.
  • Costs: It is also an unnecessary drain on the exchequer.
  • Delays legislation: They can be used to delay progressive legislation.
  • Graduate constituency does not make sense anymore: Another issue is that graduates are no longer a rare breed; also, with dipping educational standards, a graduate degree is no guarantee of any real intellectual heft. There is also no reason to privilege graduates be privileged as people’s representatives in a democracy.
    • Lower Houses already have talent from all fields: Today, legislatures draw their talent both from the grassroots level and the higher echelons of learning.  There are enough numbers of doctors, teachers and other professionals in most political parties today.

Can’t compare with Rajya Sabha:

  • The Rajya Sabha’s case is different as it represents the States rather than electoral constituencies.
  • It is also a restraining force against the dominance of elected majorities in legislative matters.

Only few States having Councils shows its limited utility:

  • The fact that there are only seven such Councils suggests the lack of any real advantage, apart from the absence of a broad political consensus on the issue.
  • If there was any real benefit in having a Legislative Council, all States in the country should, and arguably would, have a second chamber.
  • Two Bills introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2013 for establishing Legislative Councils in Assam and Rajasthan are still pending, indicating the lack of support for such a move.

Need for a National Policy on Councils:

  • A parliamentary committee that went into recent State Bills for creation of Councils had cleared the proposals, but struck a cautionary note.
  • It wanted a national policy on having an Upper House in State legislatures to be framed by the Union government, so that a subsequent government doesn’t abolish it.
  • Also a review of graduate and teacher seats:
    • The committee also favoured a review of the provision in the law for Councils to have seats for graduates and teachers.

Way forward:

  • Legislative Councils are subject to varied and inconclusive discussions around their creation, revival and abolishment. Given all this, Odisha’s proposal may give the country at large an opportunity to evolve a national consensus on Legislative Councils.

Source:TH