Legislative Council in Bengal

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    In News

    Recently, the West Bengal Assembly has passed a resolution to set up a State Legislative Council (Vidhan Parishad) with a two-thirds majority.

    Background

    • The Chief Minister of West Bengal had announced the setting up of the Council during the run up to the Assembly polls.
    • A Legislative Council existed in West Bengal till 1969 till a resolution was passed in the Assembly for its dissolution.
    • Once it is set up, West Bengal will become the seventh state to have it. The other six States are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka & Maharashtra.
      • The Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council was abolished as the state was bifurcated into the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

    About State Legislative Council

    • It is the Upper House in a bicameral state legislature with the lower house being the State Legislative Assembly.
    • Creation or Abolition of Legislative Council
      • Article 169 of the Constitution empowers the Parliament of India to create or abolish a State Legislative Council if a State’s legislature passes a resolution for that.
      • It needs to be passed with a majority of the total membership of the Assembly and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the Assembly present and voting.
      • Three steps before the formation of Council:
        • Approval of the Cabinet.
        • Governor’s approval.
        • Discussing intricate details in Assembly before framing the law.

    Composition

    • The size of the State Legislative Council cannot be more than one third of the membership of the State Legislative Assembly. However, its size cannot be less than 40 members.
    • These members elect the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the State Legislative Council.
    • Members of Legislative Council (MLCs) are chosen in the following manner:
      • One third are elected by the members of local bodies such as Municipalities, Gram panchayats, Panchayat Samitis and District Councils.
      • One third are elected by the members of the State Legislative Assembly from among the persons who are not members of the State Legislative Assembly.
      • One sixth are nominated by the Governor from persons having knowledge or practical experience in fields such as literature, science, arts, the co-operative movement and social services.
      • One twelfth are elected by persons who are graduates of three years’ standing residing in that state.
      • One twelfth are elected by teachers who had spent at least three years teaching in educational institutions within the state not lower than secondary schools, including colleges and universities.

    Qualifications

    • Must be a citizen of India.
    • Must be not less than 30 years of age in case of the Legislative Council.
    • Must make and subscribe to an oath or affirmation before the person authorised by the Election Commission for this purpose. In his oath or affirmation one swears to:
      • Bear true faith and allegiance to the constitution of India.
      • Uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India.
    • Must possess other qualifications prescribed by the Parliament.
    • A person to be elected to the Legislative Council must be an elector for an assembly constituency in the concerned state and to be qualified for governor’s nomination, he must be a resident in the concerned state.

    Tenure

    • The tenure of the MLCs is six years.
    • One-third of the members of the State Legislative Council retire after every two years.
      • This arrangement is similar to that for the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament of India.
    • The vacant seats are filled up by fresh elections and nominations by the Governor at the beginning of every third year.

    Advantages of the Legislative Council

    • Expanding Consultative Process: The upper house makes the process of consultation more broad based which could result in making laws more effective and less prone to revisions.
    • More Representative: It provides more representation from people having diverse backgrounds such as arts, science, literature etc. and makes the state legislature broad-based. It facilitates representation of eminent professionals and experts.
    • Shared Burden: It reduces the workload of the Legislative Assembly by sharing the workload enabling it to focus on the issues or matters of greater importance.
    • Checks and Balances: Having a second house offers effective resistance to any kind of ill-considered agenda through legislative assembly by majority government or the ruling party.
    • Better Legislation: It prevents hasty, defective or careless legislation and protects the legislative process from whims and fancies of a few legislators.

    Criticism of the Legislative Council

    • Accommodating Failed Politicians: Legislative Councils are more concerned about self-serving political motives than fulfilling the requirement of democratic representation because it tries to rehabilitate political stalwarts and unpopular politicians through the back doors.
    • Limited Powers: They can neither form or dissolve a State government and also have no role in the passing of money bills. It is subordinate to the legislative assembly in all respects.
    • Increased Financial Burden: These are often criticised for being unnecessary with monetary implications which makes a huge burden on a State budget.
    • Delayed Decision-Making: These Councils would only delay decision-making as evident from the experience of Rajya Sabha in some cases.
    • Dependency: The existence of a State Legislative Council has proven politically controversial because its very existence depends on the Assembly. A State Assembly can recommend a Council’s abolition to the Parliament.
    • Questioned Utility: A number of States that have had their Legislative Council abolished, have subsequently requested its re-establishment.
      • Recent efforts of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly passing a resolution to abolish its Council has put a question mark on the utility of having an upper house.

    Way Forward

    • The Legislative Council has a weak and powerless position when compared to the Legislative Assembly and therefore the Council is described as a secondary chamber or costly ornamental luxury. 
    • There is the need of the hour to make the Legislative Councils more powerful in order to make them responsible so they can take up matters of development and other important issues on par with the Legislative Assemblies.

    Source: TH