Appraisal of the functions of the Rajya Sabha

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    In Context 

    Given the prevailing political scenario in the country, a careful appraisal of the functions of the Rajya Sabha in strengthening the fundamentals of our parliamentary democracy becomes even more necessary.

    Genesis of the Rajya Sabha

    • The genesis of the Rajya Sabha can be traced to the Montague-Chelmsford report of 1918 and, consequently, the Government of India Act, 1919, which provided for a second federal chamber or the “Council of States”
      • The ‘Council of States’ which is also known as Rajya Sabha, a nomenclature that was announced by the chair in the House on the 23rd August, 1954 has its own distinctive features. 
    • Debates linked to it 
      • The relevance of the Rajya Sabha was debated in the Constituent Assembly on July 28, 1947. 
      • During this debate, a few members did indeed oppose the creation of the “Upper House”. 
        • They argued that such a House, over and above the Lok Sabha, would unnecessarily delay law-making. 
        • However, many others argued that the “second chamber” would instead introduce an element of sobriety and enhance the quality of debate and discussion.

    Composition/Strength

    • Article 80 of the Constitution lays down the maximum strength of Rajya Sabha as 250, out of which 12 members are nominated by the President and 238 are representatives of the States and of the two Union Territories. 
      • The present strength of Rajya Sabha, however, is 245, out of which 233 are representatives of the States and Union territories of Delhi and Puducherry and 12 are nominated by the President. 
      • The members nominated by the President are persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as literature, science, art and social service.
    •  The element of dignity and prestige was added to the Council of State House by making the Vice-President of India ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha who presides over its sittings.
      • Biennial/Bye-election  Rajya Sabha is a permanent House and is not subject to dissolution. 
      • However, one-third Members of Rajya Sabha retire after every second year. A member who is elected for a full term serves for a period of six years. 

     Role and importance of the Rajya Sabha

    • Rajya Sabha being a federal chamber enjoys certain special powers under the Constitution. 
    • Special Powers 
      • The Rajya Sabha exercises the ability to create new All-India Services under Article 312 by passing a resolution subject to support and voting by two-thirds of members. 
      • The Rajya Sabha exercises power to make laws on any subject included in the State List toward “national importance” under Article 249. 
      • It can approve proclamations under Article 352 or 356 or 360 if the Lok Sabha stands dissolved.
        • Approving proclamations in the event of national emergency, failure of constitutional machinery in a State, or in the case of financial emergency.
    • Quality of deliberation
      • The role and importance of the Rajya Sabha lie not only in the consideration of representation but also in the quality of deliberation.
      • The deliberative and reflective function of the Rajya Sabha is the most valuable, as it meticulously analyses the merits and demerits of a Bill so discussed.
      •  Constitution makers have bestowed upon the Rajya Sabha the task of guarding the Constitution against any hasty amendments by Lok Sabha.
      • Rajya Sabha has made an immense contribution in correcting the directions of constitutional amendments, government legislations and articulated its views on matters of national importance
    • Accountability 
      • Given the federal nature of the Indian polity, the Rajya Sabha ensures healthy bicameralism by providing some kind of accountability to the law-making process undertaken in the Lok Sabha. 
    • Expert Opinion: Rajya Sabha has also an added benefit of nominated members in the house, wherein the President nominates twelve members of Rajya Sabha from eminent walks of life and having special knowledge or practical experience in art, literature, science and social service under Article 80 of the Constitution of India. 
      • This adds quality to the debate in the house and provides a lustre to the Upper House. 
    • Permanent house 
      • The most crucial role of the Rajya Sabha is the continuity it provides to the Indian parliamentary democracy – it is often referred to as the permanent house of Parliament. 
        • While the Lok Sabha gets dissolved every five years, the Rajya Sabha is not subject to dissolution. 

    Arguments Against  Rajya Sabha

    • Limited Powers 
      • It has been argued that the Rajya Sabha exercises limited powers in legislative procedures, especially in the case of Money Bills.
        • The Lok Sabha has the power to introduce Money Bills and also exercises the final say over these bills. 
      • A no-confidence motion too cannot be introduced in the Rajya Sabha.
      •  In addition, it exercises a limited role in the functioning of the Public Accounts Committee and has no part in the Estimates Committee.
    • Impediment to decision-making: Rajya Sabha, despite being a nominated house, acts as a check on the directly elected government. 
    • This has been criticised by experts and eminent men alike. They point out that Rajya Sabha has no business holding the government accountable when Lok Sabha is fully equipped to do so.
    •  In delaying the bills and questioning the government, it oversteps its authority as it is questioning the will of the people indirectly by questioning their representatives.
    • Cost to the exchequer: Many experts have pointed to the superfluous nature of the house as it has lesser power in most aspects as compared to the Lok Sabha.
      • For e.g., it is subordinate to the Lok Sabha in financial matters as well as dismissing the government, in case it loses confidence in the house. 
      • Also, the deliberative role it plays is redundant as the same is done in the lower house. 
      • Therefore, it has been considered as a waste of resources by many experts.

    Conclusion and Way Forward 

    • Through its rich quality of ideas and debate, the discussions in the Rajya Sabha mould the thinking of students, political enthusiasts, and the general masses.
      • In the last couple of years, while there is much sloganeering around “cooperative federalism”, there have been veiled encroachments as well as attacks on the rights of states.
        •  For this reason, more than anything else, we need the Rajya Sabha to safeguard the rights of states.
    • It has been long argued that matters related to finance, fiscal federalism, and economic reforms must also be brought under the purview of the Rajya Sabha.
      • This will further help articulate states’ concerns and strengthen the premise of cooperative and competitive federalism, endorsed by the present dispensation.
    • The Rajya Sabha must not be used by political parties to accommodate candidates who fail to win mass elections. 
      • Instead, parties should select their candidates with the specific role of the Upper House in mind. 
    • It is desired in terms of increasing the productivity of the house and ensuring that the members attend the house to contribute to the deliberations, rather than hijack the functioning of the house with repeated disruptions

     

    Mains Practice Question 

    [Q] Deliberative and reflective function of Rajya Sabha is most valuable.Discuss