- The Rajya Sabha, which is constitutionally the Council of States, is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of India. The origin of the Rajya Sabha can be traced back to the Montagu-Chelmsford Report of 1918 and the subsequent Government of India Act, 1919 (which provided for a Second Federal Chamber of Parliament).
- Emphasizing the federal nature of the Indian polity, the Rajya Sabha ensures a healthy bicameralism not only as a ‘House for second thought’ but also as a ‘House of Reforms’ as the custodian of the rights of the state.
- In view of the prevailing political scenario in the country, careful evaluation of the functions of the Rajya Sabha becomes all the more necessary to reinforce the fundamentals of our parliamentary democracy.
How is Rajya Sabha relevant in Indian democracy?
- Unlike the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha is never dissolved, rather one-third of its members retire after every second year.
- This ensures continuity and also provides an opportunity for fusion of new and old members in the House.
- This type of arrangement is designed to help secure representation of past as well as present opinions and help maintain consistency in public policy.
Role of Review and Reevaluation:
- Rajya Sabha helps in in-depth review of laws, as it complements the lower house or Lok Sabha in ensuring greater executive accountability.
- It tries to control the hasty and faulty and unresponsive legislations brought in by the Lok Sabha by proposing amendments and reconsideration.
- It also provides a platform for small and regional parties to present their views.
House of ‘Check and Balance’:
- Since the decisions of the Lok Sabha can be populist and can lead the members to go against the best decision, the Rajya Sabha exercises checks and balances over it.
- Unlike the ‘House of Lords’ in Britain, Rajya Sabha members do not have hereditary membership rights.
Representation of States:
- The process of indirect elections also has its place in the Indian parliamentary system where the members of the Rajya Sabha are elected by the members of the state legislatures on the basis of proportional representation through the single transferable vote.
- It acts as a conduit between the states, the people and the parliament, whereby giving an independent voice to the states, furthering the principles of decentralization.
- Provisions have been made in the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution for the allocation of seats in the Rajya Sabha to the States and Union Territories.
Promote participatory democracy:
- 12 members of the Rajya Sabha are nominated by the President of India for a term of 6 years for their contribution to the arts, literature, science and social services.
- This feature of the Rajya Sabha makes it even more democratic and participatory as it allows eminent people who make important contributions to the society their way to the highest echelons of Indian politics.
Special Powers of Rajya Sabha
Legislation on the subjects of the State List:
- Article 249 allows Parliament to make laws on subjects listed in the State List, if the Rajya Sabha passes a resolution to this effect by a two-thirds majority.
Creation of All India Services:
- Article 312 allows Parliament to create All India Services for the Union and the States, if the Rajya Sabha passes a resolution to this effect.
President’s Rule Declaration:
- Usually such proclamations require the approval of both the Houses of Parliament.
- But if the Lok Sabha is dissolved at the time of proclamation, then the Rajya Sabha alone can approve the imposition of President’s rule (Articles 352, 356 and 360).
- Rajya Sabha meeting was specially convened in the year 1977 to extend President’s rule in Tamil Nadu and Nagaland and to impose President’s rule in Haryana in the year 1991.
Removal of Vice President from office:
- The Rajya Sabha can take the initiative to remove the Vice President from office.
- The implication is that the proposal for the removal of the Vice-President can be presented only in the Rajya Sabha and not in the Lok Sabha (Article 67).
Concerns related to Rajya Sabha
Destroying the federal character of Rajya Sabha:
- Through the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2003, Parliament has deleted the word ‘Domicile’ from section 3 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
- This problem was further aggravated by the ‘Kuldip Nayyar judgment’ which removed the domicile condition.
- After the amendment, a person who is neither a resident nor a domicile of any state can contest the Rajya Sabha election from that state.
- Ruling parties have used Rajya Sabha seats on several occasions to propel their candidates to the Upper House, who were defeated in the Lok Sabha elections.
Limited Powers relating to Money Bills:
- Money Bill can be introduced only in Lok Sabha and not in Rajya Sabha. The Rajya Sabha also does not have the power to amend or reject a money bill.
- For this it is mandatory to send the bill back to the Lok Sabha with or without its recommendations within 14 days.
- In this regard, the Lok Sabha has the autonomous right to accept or reject any recommendation or all the recommendations of the Rajya Sabha.
- In both the cases, the money bill is deemed to have been passed by both the houses.
To ‘Bypass’ Rajya Sabha:
- In some cases ordinary bills have been seen as Money Bills bypassing the Rajya Sabha, which calls into question the effectiveness of the Upper House of Parliament.
Problems related to the provision of joint sitting:
- In the event of a deadlock, the President can call a joint sitting of both the Houses. In such a case the sitting is governed by the ‘Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business’ of the Lok Sabha and not by the rules of the Rajya Sabha.
- Since the number of members of the Lok Sabha is usually more in a joint sitting, the will of the Lok Sabha prevails over the Rajya Sabha.
- No-Confidence Motion cannot be initiated in Rajya Sabha.
- Furthermore, it has a limited role in the functioning of the Public Accounts Committee and has no role in the Estimates Committee.
- In the event of a deadlock between the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, a joint sitting of the Parliament is called. A deadlock occurs in the following three situations:
- If the bill is rejected by the other house.
- If the Houses ultimately disagree about the amendments to be made to the Bill.
- If more than six months have elapsed from the date of receipt of the Bill without the Bill being passed by the other House.
- The Speaker of the Lok Sabha presides over the joint sitting of the Parliament.
- The provision of joint sitting is applicable only to Ordinary Bills or Financial Bills and not to Money Bills or Constitution Amendment Bills.