THE UPPER HOUSE OF STATE LEGISLATURE

This post consists of information about The UPPER HOUSE OF STATE LEGISLATURE.

THE STATE LEGISLATURE

The state legislature consists of the Governor and one or two houses. The Constitution provides that where there are two Houses in a State, one shall be known as the Legislative Council or Vidhan Parishads (Upper House of State Legislature), and the other as the Legislative Assembly or Vidhan Sabha (Lower House). Where there is only one House, it shall be known as the Legislative Assembly (Article 168).

How many States in India have a bicameral Legislature or UPPER HOUSE OF STATE LEGISLATURE?

At present, Legislative Council (UPPER HOUSE OF STATE LEGISLATURE)  exists in six Indian states:

  • Bihar
  • Maharashtra
  • Karnataka
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • Jammu & Kashmir
  • Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh abolished its upper house in 1984 but again set up a new Legislative Council following the elections in 2007.

The Upper House

When the constitution came into force on 26 January, 1950, provision was made in Article 168 for having two houses of legislature in six states, namely, Bihar, Bombay, Madras, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Article 169 states that the 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 third of the members of the Assembly present and voting.

In India, bicameral legislature is in 6 of the 28 states. The question whether the Upper House in the states have their utility is debatable. The arguments in support of these institutions may be summed up as follows:

(i) the Upper House gives representation to the special interests in the state,

(ii) it functions as a revising chamber,

(iii) it is a safeguard against hasty legislation by the Lower House,

(iv) it consists of seasoned and experienced people; and

(v) it has made valuable suggestions on matters of public importance during debates in the House, which are profitably utilised by the Government in the implementation of its policies and programme.

The critics of the bicameral system point out that the upper chamber is

(i) a superfluous institution and a burden on the public exchequer;

(ii) it has not made any significant contribution as a revising chamber or as a delaying chamber;

(iii) there is repetition of various matters that are raised in the Lower House;

(iv) it has no power to vote demands for grants or to amend Money Bills and certain categories of Financial Bills;

(v) 22 out of 28 states have only one chamber i.e., Legislative Assembly and the absence of the Upper House has not adversely affected the governance of those states,

(vi) Three of the states (Madras, Punjab andWest Bengal) chose to abolish their Legislative Council within a few years of its existence; and

(iv) the members defeated in elections to the Lower House are often brought in as members of the Upper House.

It is clear from the scheme of the Constitution set out in Articles 168 and 169 that there is no mandate under the constitution for having the bicameral system in the states. The founders of the Constitution provided for upper houses in only those state which succeeded to the existing provinces under the 1935 Constitution passed by the British Parliament. For the States newly created by the Constitution no provision for Upper House is made. Accordingly, the erstwhile states of Bombay, Madras, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal had originally Upper House but three of them voluntarily opted for their abolition. 

What is the composition of a Legislative Council?

The total number of members in the Legislative Council of a State having such a Council shall not exceed one -third of the total number of members in the Legislative Assembly of that state. The total number of members in the Legislative Council shall in no case be less than fourty, unless Parliament by law otherwise provides. The quorum of the Council is one tenth of the total strength or 10 members, whichever is greater. Of the total number of members of the Legislative Council of a State;

  • as nearly as may be, one third shall be elected by electorates consisting of members of municipalities, district boards and such other local authorities in the state as Parliament may by law specify,
  • as nearly as may be, one twelfth shall be elected by electorates consisting of persons residing in the State who have been for at least three years graduates of any University in the territory of India or have been for at least three years in possession of qualifications prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament as equivalent to that of a graduate of such University,
  • as nearly as may be, one-twelfth shall be elected by electorates consisting of persons who have been for at least three years engaged in teaching in such educational institutions within the state not lower in standard than that of Secondary School, as may be prescribed or under any law made by Parliament
  • as nearly as may be, one third shall be elected by the members of the Legislative Assembly of the state from amongst persons who are not member of the Assembly; and
  • the remainder shall be nominated by the Governor from among persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of matters such as literature, science,, art, co-operative movement and social service.

Powers of Legislative Councils

As regards its powers, the Legislative Council plays a more advisory role. A Bill, other than a Money Bill, may originate in either House of the Legislature. Over legislative matters it has only a suspensive veto for a maximum period of four months. Over financial matters, its powers are not absolute. A Money Bill originates only in the Assembly and the Council may detain it only for a period of fourteen days. As in the case of the Parliament at the Centre, there is no provision for a joint sitting of both the Houses of the States Legislature to resolve a deadlock between them, over legislative matters, if any. Thus, the Legislative Council is only a subordinate component of the State Legislature.

Arguments in favour of Legislative Council

The supporters of these Upper Houses of State Legislatures advance strong arguments. They feel that these Houses must be retained in the national interest. In favour of these Houses, it is said that:

  • In India the Lower Houses are constituted on the basis of universal adult franchise. There are no voting qualifications based on education and property. In the Lower House, both the literate as well as illiterate vote on political considerations. It is argued out that in case democracy is to be saved from the caprice of uneducated persons, it is essential that there should be Upper House.
  • Another argument advanced is that in every state there are people who have excelled in certain walks of life. The nation must take advantage of their abilities and capabilities. But these persons have no interest in contesting elections. Their services can best be utilised only with the help of Vidhan Parishads.
  • It is also argued that the very fact that there is another House, creates a very sobering effect on the Lower House, which does not feel tempted to pass a bill either in haste or under the influence of some momentary impulses. In case any half cooked measure comes up then at least Upper House points that out to the duly elected representatives of the people, leaving to them to accept the suggestion or not. In other words, it points out gravity of problems and suggests solution but does not very much care whether suggestions have been accepted or not.
  • Another utility of the Legislative Council is that minority communities in every state can be given representation in this House. Such representation is likely to keep them very much happy and satisfied. Similarly, the services of experienced persons who do not wish to contest elections can also be used in this House.
  • Legislative work everywhere has much increased and it is becoming impossible for a single House to handle it efficiently. So some non-money bills or less controversial matters can be introduced in the Upper House and in this way pressure of work in the Lower House is considerably reduced. This is always a welcome relief for the Lower House.
  • It is accepted that law making process has become time consuming and sufficient time is taken by each House before a bill becomes an Act. It is also accepted that during this time, the people get an opportunity to express their view point. But when the bill goes to the Upper House, the people are bit more clear as to what is going to be passed. Moreover, this time interval is always a welcome because during this period the people can express themselves and if need be changes can even now be introduced.
  • It is also argued that Upper House does not stand in any way againist the determination of the duly elected representatives of the people. All that they do is that they point out certain drawbacks and shortcomings, which should always be welcome. These Houses can serve very useful purpose in case all political parties return there men of eminence who have long and varied experience of life and maintain a good position in society. If they are the people with the strength of character and also capacity to render service to the society, they can do a lot of good to the society. Only those should be nominated who enjoy high reputation for their qualities of head and heart and a spotless life career.

Arguments against Legislative Council

  • In view of inherent weaknesses of Vidhan Parishads (Legislative Councils), some critics are of the view that these should be abolished. According to them, in case Parishad agrees with what is passed by the Assembly then it is simply a superfluous House. In case, it does not then it will be characterized as a mischievous. House and will be charged as citadel of reaction standing on the way of policies an programme of duly elected House.
  • Another criticism levied against this House is that it is no check on the Assembly. A money bill can be delayed only for a period of 14 days, which is very insufficient period for the members to express their view point. Even in the case of non-money bills, it can only delay a bill for a period of 4 months and if the Assembly is bent upon passing a measure no efforts on the part of the Parishad can check it.
  • The Council of Ministers also does not much fear from it because a vote of no confidence does not have any effect for the Ministry.
  • It is also argued that the Parishads are usually not even progressive. These have no directly elected elements. Some of the members are nominated ones. Their composition is such that these are not supposed to know public sentiments. Thus, the House is characterized as reactionary and conservative.
  • It is argued that in these Houses scholarly or literary or social workers are not nominated. Instead, this chamber is used for providing berth to defeated politicians or those active party workers who somehow or other could not be accommodated in the Assembly or dissidents in the party to avoid party frictions. In other words, the Upper Houses neither represent any caste, class or section of society but only vested interests. All elections or nominations are made on party basis and these chambers are only for increasing party interests and influences.
  • A usual argument is that since these chambers do not serve much useful purpose, therefore, their maintenance is not worth the cost which the nation is required to pay for its upkeep and by way of salaries, allowances and other expenses of the members. In case Parishads are abolished the tax payer will be much saved and the money saved can be used for other useful purposes, including economic development.
  • The very fact that only six States have retained Vidhan Parishad proves that bicameralism is not a very popular institution in India in the states. Moreover, practical experience has shown that those states which have no Legislative Councils are in no way doing work less efficiently than the other states. In case, the Councils had been doing very useful work, then the other states must have gone for it.
  • Then it is not clear to whom the Parishads represent. In case it is said that in it the teachers, and graduates are to be given representation, along with those who are engaged in the promotion of co-operative work, then why only these vocations and why not other very important vocations and occupations. In case it is felt that in that those who have excelled in any walk of state life, should be given representation, then why nomination has been kept at only 1/6th. It should have been kept much higher.
  • It is presumed that in this House there will be calm and serene atmosphere, where every problem will be discussed in a passionless atmosphere because the elders have held out no promises to the people at the time of their election. But again this is not true because in the Upper House also political considerations very much weigh with the members. Each member votes more or less on party lines and it is said that an Upper House is just extension of the Lower House, in so far as political parties are concerned. There is also no calm atmosphere in these Houses. The elders quite often quarrel with each other and do not provide much needed calmness.
  • According to some thinkers, Upper Houses are necessary because these give sufficient time to the people to express their views. According to them when a bill is traveling from the Assembly to the Parishad, the people come to know what is going to be passed. Intervening time can be utilised for expressing opinion by the public and in case there are strong reservations, the bill can be modified as well. But again this is not correct because the time taken in passing each bill in one House and stages through which it passes are so many that the people have sufficient time to express themselves, through press and platform. On this ground also, the Upper Houses have no utility.

To conclude, the Upper Houses of State Legislatures are likely to remain under criticisms, in case these are used for providing berth to defeated politicians so that they can become Chief Ministers or Ministers by becoming a member of either House of legislature. Politicians must take the responsibility to firmly establish the prestige of these constitutional institutions.

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