Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Is the Rajya Sabha redundant ?

The Rajya Sabha or Council of States is the upper house of the Parliament of India. Rajya means "state" and Sabha means "assembly" in Sanskrit. Membership is limited to 250 members, 12 of whom are nominated by the President of India for their contributions to art, literature, science and social services. The remainder of the body is elected by the state and territorial legislatures. Terms of office is six years, with one third of the members retiring every two years. 

The Vice President of India (currently, Hamid Ansari) is the ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, who presides over its sessions. The Deputy Chairman, who is elected from amongst its members, takes care of the day-to-day matters of the house in the absence of the Chairman. The Rajya Sabha held its first sitting on 13 May 1952.

As our discussion is that Rajya Sabha is a redundant body or not then we see the pros & cons of the Rajya Sabha then we will come on any conclusion. 


The Founding Fathers of the Constitution, Shri N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar etc envisaged the Rajya Sabha to play an important role as a legislative chamber (revising or delaying legislation without proving a clog), federal chamber (representative of interests of States) and a deliberative chamber (holding dignified debates on important issues). The Constitution-makers conferred equal powers on both the Houses (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) except in certain money/financial matters, voting of supplies (Demands for Grants), and power to "make or unmake governments." 

In fact, the first vice-president of India and the first chairman of the Rajya Sabha Dr. S. Radhakrishnan said :

"There is a general impression that this House cannot make or unmake governments and, therefore, it is a superfluous body. But there are functions, which a revising chamber can fulfil fruitfully. Parliament is not only a legislative but a deliberative body. So far as its deliberative functions are concerned, it will be open to us to make very valuable contributions, and it will depend on our work whether we justify this two chamber system, which is now an integral part of our Constitution. So, it is a test to which we are submitted. We are for the first time starting under the Parliamentary system, with a second chamber in the Centre and we should try to do everything in our power to justify to the public of this country that a second chamber is essential to prevent hasty legislation".

As a legislative body there are no restrictions on the powers of the Rajya Sabha under the Constitution to initiate Bills except Money and certain Financial Bills, in respect of which the final voice rests with the Lok Sabha. In the case of ordinary legislation, a mechanism of a joint sitting of the two Houses has been provided to resolve a legislative deadlock between them. Over the years, a number of important measures of legislation in various spheres have originated in the Rajya Sabha. Deadlocks between the two Houses have been resolved in joint sittings in 1961, in respect of disagreement on amendments to be made in the Dowry Prohibition Bill, 1959, in 1978 when the Rajya Sabha rejected the Banking Service Commission (Repeal) Bill, 1977 and again in 2002, when the Rajya Sabha rejected the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002, as passed by the Lok Sabha. 

Privileges of Rajya Sabha

As a House representing the States, the Rajya Sabha has been assigned a special role whenever it is considered necessary or expedient in the national interest that the Centre should intervene in the legislative sphere of the States. Article 249 confers power on Parliament to legislate with respect to a matter enumerated in the State List upon the Rajya Sabha passing a resolution by two-thirds majority. In 1952 and 1986, the Rajya Sabha passed such resolutions with respect to matters mentioned in the State List in Entries 26 and 27, and Entries 1, 2, 4, 64, 65 and 66, respectively.

Again under article 312, Parliament is empowered to create by law one or more All India Services common to the Union and the States, if the Rajya Sabha passes the requisite resolution. The Rajya Sabha passed such resolutions in 1961 and 1965, for the creation of the Indian Engineering Service, Indian Forest Service, Indian Medical and Health Service, Indian Agricultural Service and the Indian Educational Service. The adoption by the Rajya Sabha of the resolution with two-thirds majority, it is felt, is tantamount to the giving of consent by the States for Central intervention in their legislative sphere.

There is yet another power vested in the Rajya Sabha in respect of Proclamations of Emergency (article 352), of failure of constitutional machinery in States (article 356) and of Financial Emergency (article 360). These Proclamations are required to be approved by resolutions of both Houses of Parliament within the prescribed period. But if any such Proclamation is issued at a time when the Lok Sabha has been dissolved or dissolution of the Lok Sabha takes place during the prescribed period for approval of the Proclamation, the Rajya Sabha has been given power to pass such a resolution and the Lok Sabha can pass it later after it is reconstituted. In 1977, the Rajya Sabha had to be specially convened for a brief session to extend the President's Rule in Tamil Nadu and Nagaland and again in 1991, for approval of the President's Rule in Haryana. On both these occasions the Lok Sabha was under dissolution. 

As a revising chamber:

As a revising chamber also the Rajya Sabha has recommended changes in a number of Bills passed by the Lok Sabha which have been accepted by it. In the matter of exercise of constituent power of Parliament, i.e., power to amend the Constitution, the Rajya Sabha shares it with the Lok Sabha. A Constitution Amendment Bill can be introduced in either House of Parliament and has to be passed by each House by a special majority. In case there is any disagreement between the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, the Bill falls through; in other words there is no provision of a joint sitting to resolve a deadlock on a constitutional amendment. In 1970, the Constitution (Twenty-fourth Amendment) Bill regarding abolition of privy purses to erstwhile rulers, as passed by the Lok Sabha, could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha for want of the requisite support and, therefore, fell through. Again in 1989, the Constituion (Sixty-fourth and Sixty-fifth Amendment) Bills which had earlier been passed by the Lok Sabha, could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha by the requisite majority. In 1978, the Rajya Sabha introduced important amendments in the Constitution (Forty-fifth Amendment) Bill and they were accepted by the Lok Sabha to stand as part of the Constitution. 

When the Government of the day was not having majority in Rajya Sabha it treaded cautiously. On 12 February 1999, a Proclamation was issued by the President under article 356 of the Constitution in relation to the State of Bihar. The Statutory Resolution seeking approval of the Proclamation, as required under clause (3) of article 356 of the Constitution, despite being adopted by Lok Sabha, was not brought before Rajya Sabha. Rather the Government decided to revoke the Proclamation issued by the President and a copy of the Proclamation issued by the President under clause (2) of article 356 of the Constitution on 8 March 1999, revoking the Proclamation made by the President on 12 February 1999 in relation to the State of Bihar, was laid on the Table of Rajya Sabha, as required under clause (3) of article 356 of the Constitution.

As a co-ordinator:

In regard to Money and certain Financial Bills, there are restrictions on the powers of the Rajya Sabha in the matter of initiation, amendability or delaying of such Bills. They cannot be introduced in the Rajya Sabha; cannot be amended directly and cannot be delayed by more than fourteen days. However, in respect of Financial Bills without money clauses, there are no such limitations. 

Rajya Sabha can play a useful role within the limited time available, by recommending amendments to the Lok Sabha in Money Bills, though it is left to the Lok Sabha to accept or not to accept those recommendations. A typical example is that of the Income-tax (Amendment) Bill, 1961, which was a Money Bill to which the Rajya Sabha recommended some amendments and they were accepted by the Lok Sabha. But the amendments recommended by the Rajya Sabha in the Finance Bills of 1977 and 1978 were not accepted by the Lok Sabha. The Constitution also provides that the Annual Budget of the Union is to be laid before both Houses of Parliament. The Budget can be discussed in the Rajya Sabha as well, although Demands for Grants should be made only to the Lok Sabha. The reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India relating to the accounts of the Union are also required to be laid before both the Houses.


A second chamber is generally associated with such negative attributes as undemocratic, conservative, delaying or obstructionist and secondary. None of these are, however, applicable to the Rajya Sabha. Mention has already been made as to how the democratic character of the Rajya Sabha is ensured. As already noted, the Constitution Amendment Bill relating to abolition of privy purses fell in the Rajya Sabha. However, it needs to be pointed out that it was the Rajya Sabha which had earlier unanimously passed a private member's resolution recommending this measure. 

Many measures in social and economic fields have been initiated in the Rajya Sabha thus disapproving the presumption that a second chamber is always conservative. So far as the role of Rajya Sabha as a delaying chamber is concerned, the observations of Bryce Conference may be recalled that the true function of a second chamber is "to interpose so much delay (and no more) in the passing of a Bill into law as may be needed to enable the opinion of the nation to be adequately expressed upon it." 

As a matter of fact there have been many instances in the Rajya Sabha when the Bills were passed expeditiously, as circumstances and situations warranted. For instance on 25 August 1984, the Rajya Sabha passed five Constitution Amendment Bills one after another in one sitting. The growing involvement of the Rajya Sabha in legislative functions and as a debating chamber influencing Government policies amply testifies that the Rajya Sabha despite being called a second chamber, does not play a secondary role nor is it an embellishment. From all points of view, therefore, the Rajya Sabha has emerged as a vital functioning part of our constitutional and parliamentary apparatus. 

By the support of above discussed facts we can easily say that it is not as much importance in each and every circumstance as Lok Sabha but it has very crucial role in some important cases. We cannot say that it is redundant as far as I am concerned.

References : Wikipedia, Rajya Sabha Website

Drishti Gaurav feels very positively about the work-ability of Indian Democracy. He wishes to express his views by writing at Indian Policy.

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