Unlike the Lok Sabha, where 543 of the 545 members are elected by the people, the 245 Rajya Sabha members comprise 233 individuals indirectly elected by state/UT legislatures and 12 individuals appointed by the President of India for their contributions to art, literature, science, and social services.
Over the past three years, there has been a lot of debate on the functioning & need of the Upper House. Ordinary citizens feel most political parties nominate their loyalists (who lose Lok Sabha elections) & give them RS seats as a consolation prize.
How it began
Although the Rajya Sabha or the ‘Council of States’ was constituted in 1952, its origin can be attributed to the ‘Montague-Chelmsford Report’ of 1919 where, under the garb of Constitution Reforms, a second chamber was established with the idea to protect colonial interests and therefore was contrary to the spirit of the Indian independence movement.
How Rajya Sabha impedes growth
Exactly one year ago, despite having 400 seats or 51.4% of the total 778 occupied seats in both houses (12 are vacant), the Narendra Modi led BJP/NDA government is unable to get crucial bills passed in Parliament.
On the other hand, with a mere 17.2% or 134 seats across both houses, the Sonia Gandhi led UPA has successfully stalled Rajya Sabha by behaving like hooligans shouting slogans in the well of the house, assisted by the silence of the Chairman (VP Hamid Ansari) and Vice-Chairman PJ Kurien, both known loyalists of Sonia “Ji”.
Some would argue that the situation mirrors the years when BJP stalled the Rajya Sabha during UPA’s rule. Does one wrong make the second right? Are we going to continue watching silently as this tit-for-tat politics hijacks our national agenda?
Is it the “WESTMINSTER MODEL”?
Since childhood, most of us “ordinary” citizens have been led to believe that our RS is modelled on the British House of Lords. How true is this?
The House of Lords (RS) has powers to amend/reject bills, but the powers to reject a bill already passed by House of Commons (LS) is severely restricted by the Parliament Acts of 1911 & 1949 (both came into effect BEFORE Indian Constitution was finalised. Under the Parliament Acts, certain types of bills may be presented for Royal Assent without the consent of the House of Lords (i.e. the Commons can override the Lords’ veto).
The House of Lords (RS) cannot delay a money bill (a bill that, in the view of the Speaker of the House of Commons (LS), solely concerns national taxation or public funds) for more than one month. Now compare this to how much our great RS delayed the GST Bill after it was passed by the LS.
Other bills cannot be delayed by the House of Lords for more than two parliamentary sessions, or one calendar year. A further restriction is the Salisbury Convention, which means that the House of Lords does not oppose legislation promised in the Government’s election manifesto. Does Narendra Modi have such powers?
By a custom that prevailed even before the Parliament Acts, the House of Lords is further restrained insofar as financial bills are concerned. The House of Lords may neither originate a bill concerning taxation or supply of treasury or exchequer funds, nor amend a bill so as to insert a taxation or supply-related provision.
What about the world’s oldest Democracy?
In the US, only the Senate (RS) can approve Presidential treaties with foreign nations, appointing Ambassadors and SC judges. Only the House of Representatives (LS) can write funding & appropriations bills necessary to run the government. The House has power to impeach a govt. official, in effect serving as prosecutor. The Senate has the sole power to conduct impeachment trials, essentially serving as jury & judge. Since 1789, the Senate has tried 17 federal officials, including 2 Presidents.
As far as normal legislative powers go, if a bill has passed in both the Houses and has been approved by the President, or if a presidential veto has been overridden, the bill becomes a law. When the President refuses to sign the bill, the result is called a veto. Congress can try to overrule a veto. To do this, both the Senate (RS) and the House (LS) must vote to overrule the President’s veto by a two-thirds majority. Presidential vetoes usually kill bills, and this, in reality, happens to >40% of all bills sent to The Whitehouse. Compare this with the powers of our PM!!!
What Polls Say
73% want Congress RS MPs to behave
In a Poll conducted by MyVote.Today in January 2016, 73% voted that Congress party should guarantee 100% functioning of Rajya Sabha. That is the mood of the nation, as 73% is not a number to be taken lightly.
67% say ‘pass’ the Bill(s)
In another MyVote.Today Poll conducted in February 2016, 67% said Rajya Sabha should vote on a Bill already passed by the Lok Sabha within 7 days or within the same session, while 21% voted for RS to be abolished.
85% dissatisfied with RS functioning
6150 people voted on another February 2016 MyVote.Today Poll about Rajya Sabha disruption, in which 58% voted for suspending the disrupters from the house and 20% said that the RS should be reconstituted. Another 7% voted for impeaching VP Hamid Ansari. So total 85% are dissatisfied with the functioning of the current RS.
11% will vote for opposition if RS is directly elected
13,100 people voted on a MyVote.Today Poll in April 2017, in which 67% said they will vote for BJP politicians and 22% said they will vote for non-politicians if Rajya Sabha was directly elected. Only 11% said they will vote for Congress or regional parties. And yet this 11% is disrupting the house. What a dichotomy!
Although a constitutional amendment is required to bring a reform, post this, a direct election to choose Rajya Sabha representatives would not only bring about a much needed and necessary Parliamentary reform, but also empower We The People in choosing their truer representative(s).
One could even look at a newer composition of the Rajya Sabha, wherein it could be made mandatory to ensure that a certain number of members have to be between the ages of 30 and 50, in order to better represent the nation’s youth demographic, where 65% of its population is <35.
Imagine the vibrancy if Rajya Sabha featured nominated retired personnel from the Armed Forces, former Judges, retired IAS, IPS and IFS officers, professionals, scholars and one Gram Panchayat member from each state?
For the sake of argument how about a Rajya Sabha that features the following:
The last CJI, CEC, CIC & CAG of India
6 nominees of President of India
6 retired Chief Justices of HCs
6 nominees of CBI/ED/BSF/CRPF/CISF/RPF
6 retired IFS/Diplomats
6 Architects/Researchers/Ph.Ds etc
6 from Arts/Literature/Film Industry
9 Sportsmen who have represented India
11 nominees of Army/Navy/Air Force/Coast Guard/BSF
35 Gram Panchs (1 from each state, assuming UP as 4 states)
35 retired IPS Officers (1 from each state, assuming UP as 4 states)
35 retired IAS Officers (1 from each state, assuming UP as 4 states)
65 Young Senators elected by WE THE PEOPLE, all of whom have to be below the age of 50 on the day of filing their nominations
The foundation of our present Rajya Sabha is almost a century old and we have spent more than half of that same time trying to better a system that wasn’t founded on solid ground and such a reform wouldn’t reduce the power of Rajya Sabha but only place the interest of the nation over the party or any family.
In 1949/50, when Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and others wrote/discussed and finally got the Constitution of India passed by the constituent assembly on the 26th of November, 1949, they could not have dreamt how people like Derek O’Brien, Mayawati, Ghulam Nabi Azad or Anand Sharma would behave in future Rajya Sabhas.
Remember, the ultimate power vests with WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA…