If there was any real benefit in having a Legislative Council, all States in the country should, and arguably would, have a second chamber. The fact that there are only seven such Councils suggests the lack of any real advantage, apart from the absence of a broad political consensus on the issue. Now Odisha wants to join the group of States that have an Upper House. The State Cabinet has approved a 49-member Legislative Council, accepting the report of a committee set up in 2015 to study the functioning of the second chamber in other States and make recommendations. The process of creating an Upper House is lengthy. The State Assembly has to pass a resolution for the creation of the Council by a majority of its total membership. Thereafter, Parliament has to enact a law to create it. Two Bills introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2013 for establishing Legislative Councils in Assam and Rajasthan are still pending, indicating the lack of support for such a move. A parliamentary committee that went into these Bills cleared the proposals, but struck a cautionary note. It wanted a national policy on having an Upper House in State legislatures to be framed by the Union government, so that a subsequent government doesn’t abolish it. It also favoured a review of the provision in the law for Councils to have seats for graduates and teachers.
The advantages of having a bicameral legislature are well-known. An Upper House provides a forum for academicians and intellectuals, who are arguably not suited for the rough and tumble of electoral politics. At least on paper, it provides a mechanism for a more sober and considered appraisal of legislation that a State may pass. The objections to the second chamber are varied. Rather than fulfilling the lofty objective of getting intellectuals into the legislature, the forum is likely to be used to accommodate party functionaries who fail to get elected. It is also an unnecessary drain on the exchequer. Another issue is that graduates are no longer a rare breed; also, with dipping educational standards, a graduate degree is no guarantee of any real intellectual heft. And then again, why should graduates be privileged as people’s representatives in a democracy? Today, legislatures draw their talent both from the grassroots level and the higher echelons of learning. There are enough numbers of doctors, teachers and other professionals in most political parties today. The Rajya Sabha’s case is different as it represents the States rather than electoral constituencies. It is also a restraining force against the dominance of elected majorities in legislative matters. Legislative Councils are subject to varied and inconclusive discussions around their creation, revival and abolishment. Given all this, Odisha’s proposal may give the country at large an opportunity to evolve a national consensus on Legislative Councils.