National policy for Upper Houses?

Published - March 21, 2015 02:08 am IST

The desirability of a bicameral legislature at the State level has been debated since the days of the Constituent Assembly, and recent developments may revive the debate. Assam and Rajasthan want to join the small seven-member club of States (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh) with a Legislative Council in the country and Odisha is also examining the creation of one. A second chamber has always been attractive to those who believe in widening the space for representative democracy. Its advocates say wiser counsel from an upper House of elders is needed to temper the often fractious nature of the debate in the Lower House. Also, the second chamber helps in accommodating more sections of society in the process of legislation and decision-making. Detractors, however, contend that the Council is nothing but a body to accommodate various political interests within a party, a backdoor way into the legislature for those who lose direct elections. Recent experience suggests that even Chief Ministers choose the Legislative Council route when the option is available. Does the fact that an upper House exists in seven States, with two or three more keen to join that list, really indicate that there is merit in having a Council?

There is little doubt that a second chamber will be a useful forum to play an advisory role in legislative matters. However, the fact remains that it can also be a tool in the hands of those in power to accommodate their favourites or defeated party functionaries. Also, there is no consensus even within States on its necessity. In Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam abolished the Council in 1986, and strongly opposes moves by its rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to revive it. Parliament has already passed legislation to revive the chamber in Tamil Nadu, but it is yet to be implemented. In Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu Desam Party government abolished the Council in 1985, but a Congress regime revived it in 2007. This was why a senior member in the UPA Cabinet cautioned the government against supporting the then DMK regime’s proposal to revive the Council in the absence of a consensus. A parliamentary committee, examining the Rajasthan and Assam bills relating to creation of the Legislative Council, suggested that there should be a national policy on having a permanent second chamber so that a subsequent government cannot abolish it at its whim. This is a better way to address the issue instead of relying on ad hocism. While framing such a policy, it will also have to be decided whether the time and resources involved in having a second chamber is worth the while, and if so, whether the present scheme of giving representation to teachers and graduates requires modification to involve other sections.

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