Do numbers matter in Rajya Sabha?Approx Read Time: 7 minutes
Law making in India:
Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha vary in composition and modes of election:
- Elections to the Lok Sabha are held every five years and before that on dissolution of the House.
- For the Rajya Sabha, one-third of the members are chosen every second year reflecting its permanent nature.
- While the Lok Sabha elections hold a mirror to the recent will of the people, the Rajya Sabha is envisaged to convey the same in different phases of development marking some continuity.
- The Executive lasts only as long as it has a majority in the Lok Sabha, but in law-making, both the Houses are at par.
Different parties having majority in the Houses of Parliament:
- An analysis was undertaken by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat recently on the composition of the two houses of parliament during the past 68 years since the first general elections in 1952.
- The analysis revealed that the government of the day had a majority in the Rajya Sabha only for 29 years and was in a minority for 39 years.
- The government has been in a minority in the Rajya Sabha in an unbroken stretch for the past 31 years.
Does not seem to have much impact on law making:
- Given the possible variations in the composition of both the Houses on account of different modes of election to them, there could be impact on the nature and speed of legislation.
- However, the divergence in numbers in the two Houses does not indicate any adverse impact on the broader course of legislation except in a few cases.
- Since 1952, the Rajya Sabha held 5,472 sittings and passed as many as 3,857 Bills till the Budget Session of 2020.
As can be seen by only three Joint Sittings:
- So far, Parliament held only three Joint Sittings to resolve differences between both the Houses.
- The first instance was in 1961 when the then Nehru government enjoyed a majority in the Rajya Sabha but the Dowry Prohibition Bill, 1959 suffered a defeat.
- In 1978, the Banking Services Commission (Repeal) Bill, 1977 was rejected by the Rajya Sabha.
- In 2002, the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002 could not pass the Rajya Sabha scrutiny.
Powers of Rajya Sabha vis-a-vis Lok 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.
- Lok Sabha has special powers with regards to the Money Bill or Finance Bills as they can be introduced only in the lower house and only this house can approve the Demands for Grants.
- As per the constitutional provisions, the Rajya Sabha at best could hold a Money Bill for 14 days during when it has to return such Bills without or with amendments for the consideration of the Lok Sabha.
- Yet, there were some occasions when such amendments of the Rajya Sabha were accepted by the other House as in cases of:
- The Travancore Cochin Appropriation (Vote on Account) Bill, 1956
- The Union Duty of Excise (Distribution) Bill
- The Taxes on Railway Passenger Fares (Distribution) Bill, 1957
- The Income Tax Bill, 1961
- On the other hand, the Rajya Sabha has some special powers in:
- Adopting a resolution allowing Parliament to legislate on subjects in the State List
- Creating All India Services
- Approving proclamations of Emergency and President’s Rule when the Lok Sabha is dissolved
How Rajya Sabha’s functioning has been changing in the recent decades?
Productivity fall in Rajya Sabha due to increasing disruptions:
- An analysis by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat revealed that the productivity of the Rajya Sabha till 1997 has been 100% and above.
- However, the past 23 years have thrown up a disturbing trend of rising disruptions.
- Productivity fell to 87% during 1998-2004, 76% during 2005-14 and 61% during 2015-19.
Rajya Sabha’s Oversight function has fallen in the recent decades:
- While the time spent by the Rajya Sabha on legislation since 1978 remained the same at about 29%, a concern emerges in respect of the ‘Oversight’ function of the House.
- Legislatures ensure accountability of the executive through Questions, Calling Attention Notices etc.
- Time share of this important Oversight function of the Council of States in the total functional time of the House during 1978-2004 was 39.50%. This fell to 21.99% during 2005-14 and to 12.34% since 2015.
- The 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.
But Rajya Sabha has been improving in its Deliberative functions:
- In the recent decades, the Rajya Sabha is proving to be more and more a ‘deliberative’ body with increasingly more time being spent on this function.
- The time share on deliberations under instruments like Short Duration Discussions, Zero Hour, Special Mentions, Discussion on Budgets and working of ministries, Motion of Thanks to President etc was 33.54% during 1978-2004.
- It rose to 41.42 % during 2005-2014 and to a high of 46.59% during 2015-19.
Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha had differences on many occasions:
- It is true that the required spirit of cordiality between the two Houses suffered a dent on some occasions.
- First when Rajya Sabha members were not included in the Public Accounts Committee in 1952.
- The Rajya Sabha was taunted as regressive when it rejected the Constitution (Twenty-fourth Amendment) Bill, 1970 for abolishing privy purses to erstwhile rulers after it was passed by the Lok Sabha.
- There were occasions when the Rajya Sabha sat over Bills passed by the Lok Sabha for a long time.
- At the same time, there were instances when amendments proposed by the Rajya Sabha were rejected by the other House.
Efforts for dissolution of Rajya Sabha:
- There were some reservations voiced in the Constituent Assembly about having a second chamber.
- This continued later also as some members of the Lok Sabha moved resolutions as early as in 1954 and again later in 1971, 1972 and 1975 for the dissolution of the Rajya Sabha.
- But wise counsel prevailed and such efforts were thwarted.
The two Houses have worked well together:
- After the initial frictions, Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha have proved to be constructive partners in steering the socio-economic transformation of the country since 1952, co-scripting pioneering laws.
- Even in the recent years, though the present government does not have the required numbers in the Rajya Sabha, Rajya Sabha rose to the occasion in passing landmark legislation relating to the GST, Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code, Triple Talaq, Reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir, Citizenship amendment etc.
- This goes to prove that numbers in the Rajya Sabha is not an issue as far as law-making is concerned.
Rajya Sabha has not been obstructionist:
- The partnership between the two houses has been guided by the required spirit of co-operation and camaraderie despite divergence in the composition of both the Houses for most part of this journey.
- While there were a few instances where Rajya Sabha disagreed with the Lok Sabha on legislations, there is no case for terming Rajya Sabha as “obstructionist”.
Some compromises are necessary in the management of free institutions:
- John Stuart Mill, renowned British philosopher and political economist, in 1861 noted that management of free institutions requires conciliation; a readiness to compromise; a willingness to concede something to opponents and mutual give and take.
- What needs to be addressed by all the stakeholders is that while enabling Rajya Sabha to retain its independence, it should not be seen as ‘disruptive’ as evidenced over the past two decades.
- Political passions should not be the basis of such disruptions.
- The line between obstruction and disruption is very thin and we should guard against it.
- Both the sides of the House have a stake in proper functioning of Rajya Sabha.