States raise pitch for Councils

Say Upper House will ensure better people’s participation

Even as the Union government continues to face difficulty in getting key legislation passed in the Rajya Sabha, some State governments still want to embrace the bicameral system and set up an Upper House or legislative council. These State governments reason that an Upper House will provide a better opportunity for people’s participation in governance and decision-making.

The setting up of legislative councils in States has to be cleared by an Act of Parliament. In 2013, Assam and Rajasthan both introduced Bills in Parliament to create legislative councils of 42 and 66 members respectively. They are pending approval after being cleared by standing committees.

In January this year, the Odisha government set up a panel to look into the creation of a legislative council while in the current session of Parliament, Andhra Pradesh moved a Bill to increase the number of members in its legislative council from 50 to 58. Currently, only six States follow the bicameral system — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

The parliamentary standing committee reports on the setting up of legislative councils in Assam and Rajasthan recommended that the Central government should evolve a national policy for the creation of an Upper House in State legislatures so that it is not abolished by the incumbent government. This is in recognition of the fact that the issue of setting up legislative councils has become a highly politicised decision.

Since independence, several State governments have moved to abolish their legislative councils while some, like Assam and Andhra Pradesh, have later moved to set them up again. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK has for long been moving to set up a legislative council only to have the move opposed once the AIADMK returns to power.

Though they were originally set up to provide wiser counsel to the State assemblies, experts point out that the demand for legislative councils today is because of an increased pressure for accommodating various political interests.

According to Yogendra Narain, former Secretary-General of the Rajya Sabha, this has to do with the growing number of politicians across the country. “Legislative councils are a way to increase the political space. For several parties there is the pressure to accommodate people who cannot be elected and are not nominated to other corporations or State bodies,” he said.

The standing committee reports on the Assam and Rajasthan legislative councils both supported the proposal to set up the Upper House in ‘the larger public interest.’ They noted that most political parties in those States supported the setting up of legislative councils. Several groups argued that members of various communities and ethnic groups which could not be sent to the Assembly could be accommodated in the council for fair representation.

Those in opposition saw the councils as an unnecessary luxury and argued that they would be used only to accommodate defeated candidates of the ruling party. Moreover, they pointed out that the strength of the legislative councils was not the same as the Rajya Sabha since they cannot delay legislation for more than four months.

The Rajasthan government said the establishment of an Upper House would cost the State exchequer Rs. 100 crore while the Assam government said there would be a one-time cost of Rs. 68 crore with a recurring annual expenditure of Rs. 19 crore.

They are a way to increase political space, says former RS Secretary-General

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