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Insights into Editorial: Abolition politics: on A.P. Cabinet nod to abolish Legislative Council

Insights into Editorial: Abolition politics: on A.P. Cabinet nod to abolish Legislative Council

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Context:

The abolition and revival of the second chamber in State legislatures have become matters of political expediency.

Andhra Pradesh is the latest State to favour the alteration of the status quo regarding the Upper House, in an Assembly resolution for its Legislative Council’s abolition.

A.P. Chief Minister drastic step comes after key legislation intended to take forward his three-capital proposal was referred to a select committee by the Council, in which his party does not have a majority.

His grievance: the Council is working with a political agenda to block his proposal.

While the need for a bicameral legislature in the States has often been questioned, few would support the idea that the potential difficulty in getting the Council’s approval should be a reason for its abolition.

Legislative Councils in various states:

  • P.’s proposal will bear fruit only if Parliament passes a law to that effect, based on the State’s request.
  • P. CM went to the extent of saying that there was no point in spending a huge sum (Rs.60 crore per year) on the Council if it comes in the way of important government business in the Legislature.
  • He also mentioned in the Assembly that only six States have Legislative Councils and he was against allowing the Legislative Council of A.P. to function with a political agenda.
  • However, recent experience suggests that States without a Legislative Council favour its revival. Rajasthan, Assam, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh have passed resolutions for a revival, but are yet to get parliamentary approval.
  • In Tamil Nadu, at least two erstwhile DMK regimes had favoured revival, and even parliamentary approval given in 2010 did not result in the actual re-establishment of the Council, which was dissolved in 1986. I
  • It is quite clear that wherever the Council is sought to be revived or abolished, there is no consensus.

What are the Legislative Councils, and why are they important?

  • India has a bicameral systeme., two Houses of Parliament. At the state level, the equivalent of the Lok Sabha is the Vidhan Sabha or Legislative Assembly; that of the Rajya Sabha is the Vidhan Parishad or Legislative Council.

A second House of legislature is considered important for two reasons:

  • One, to act as a check on hasty actions by the popularly elected House and,
  • Two, to ensure that individuals who might not be cut out for the rough-and-tumble of direct elections too are able to contribute to the legislative process.
  • Our constitution does not force a bicameral legislature on states. It gives states the option of having a second House.
  • The process of creating an Upper House is lengthy. Under Article 169 of the constitution, Parliament may by law create or abolish the second chamber in a state if the Legislative Assembly of that state passes a resolution to that effect by a special majority.
  • As per Article 171 (1), the total number of members in the legislative council of a state shall not exceed one third of the total number of the members in the legislative Assembly of that state.
  • Also, the total number of members in the legislative council of a state shall in no case be less than 40.
  • As of today, six states have Legislative Councils. These are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Opposition to the idea of Legislative Councils is centred on three broad arguments:

  • One, they can be used to park leaders who have not been able to win an election.
  • Two, they can be used to delay progressive legislation.
  • Three, they would strain state finances.

Opinion in the Constituent Assembly was divided on the question of having a Legislative Council.

The idea was backed on the above grounds; it was also suggested that having a second chamber would allow for more debate and sharing of work between the Houses.

2nd ARC recommended that role of teachers and graduates should be decreased or done away with and more say should be given to local bodies in order to strengthen the voice of local bodies.

How are members of the Council elected?

Membership may vary, but the Legislative Council must not have more than a third of the total membership of the Assembly of that state, and in no case fewer than 40 members.

About 1/3rd of members are elected by members of the Assembly, another 1/3rd by electorates consisting of members of municipalities, district boards and other local authorities in the state, 1/12th by an electorate consisting of teachers, and 1/12th by registered graduates.

The remaining members are nominated by the Governor from among those who have distinguished themselves in literature, science, art, the cooperative movement, and social service.

Legislative Councils are permanent Houses, and like Rajya Sabha, one-third of their members retire every two years.

Do Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Parishads have similar powers?

Not really. The constitution gives Councils limited legislative powers.

Unlike Rajya Sabha which has substantial powers to shape non-financial legislation, Legislative Councils lack the constitutional mandate to do so.

Legislative Assemblies have the power to override suggestions/amendments made to a legislation by the Council.

Also, while Rajya Sabha MPs can vote in the election of the President and Vice-President, members of Legislative Councils can’t. MLCs also can’t vote in the elections of Rajya Sabha members.

Conclusion:

Chief Ministers ought to bear the possible delay that the Council’s opinion or course of action may cause, and seek to build a legislative consensus instead of pushing their agenda through.

In particular, state governments will have to listen to different voices on his proposal to locate the State High Court in Kurnool, its legislature in Amaravati, and the government secretariat in Visakhapatnam.

A parliamentary committee that went into the Bills introduced in respect of Assam and Rajasthan suggested that the Centre evolve a national policy on having an Upper House in the States.

The larger question is whether the Councils are serving their intended purpose to take a considered view on matters without being influenced by electoral considerations.

If the Upper Houses are used only for accommodating leaders who have lost general elections, there may not be much meaning in their existence.

And there is less justification for having separate representation in Councils for graduates and local bodies when democracy has taken roots and Assemblies are representative of all sections.