Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] The need for a second chamber

The role of Rajya Sabha is to revise legislation without proving a clog in the wheel of progress; to represent the interests of the States as a federal chamber; and be a deliberative body holding high-quality debates on important issues.
By IASToppers
May 12, 2020

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Bicameralism and Federalism
  • Arguments against second chamber
  • Arguments in Favour
  • Significance
  • Need of second chamber
  • Conclusion

 

The need for a second chamber

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Introduction:

The Rajya Sabha came into being on April 3, 1952 and held its first session on May 13 the same year. The second chamber underwent severe prenatal scrutiny in the Constituent Assembly. The proposal for a bicameral central legislature for the country was discussed at length, with deep divisions between the proponents and opponents, which finally emerged in the formation of the Council of States.

Background:

  • The central legislature that came into being under the Government of India Act, 1919 was bicameral with a Council of States comprising 60 members and a Legislative Assembly comprising 145 members.
  • The membership and voting norms for the Council of States were only allowed to wealthy landowners, merchants and those with legislative experience.
  • Women could neither vote nor seek membership.
  • The Government of India Act, 1935 proposed an elaborate and improved version of the second chamber, but this never materialised.
  • The Constituent Assembly, which was formed in 1947, after adoption of the Constitution became the Provisional Parliament and made laws till 1952.

Bicameralism and Federalism:

  • Bicameralism is a principle that requires the consent of two differently constituted chambers of Parliament for making or changing laws.
  • This principle came into operation in 1787 with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Its appeal grew in strength from time to time and at present, 79 Parliaments of the world (41% of the total number) are bicameral.
  • Modern federalism is entirely different given the complexity of geographical, regional, social and economic diversities marking the constituent units of a federation or a union.
  • The U.S. is a union of constituent states and so is India — each unit has a set of unique features.
  • Federalism and bicameralism are linked because the federal character of a nation comprising constituent units can be reflected in, and secured by, a bicameral legislature.
  • Despite being conscious of the huge degree of diversities and attendant inequalities that marked British India, and aware of the emergence of independent India as a Union of States, the proposal for the Rajya Sabha as a second chamber had no easy sailing in the Constituent Assembly.

Arguments against second chamber:

  • A member of the Constituent Assembly, Mohd. Tahir asserted that an Upper House was not essential and viewed it as a creation of imperialism.
  • Professor S. L. Saksena went further and warned that such a chamber would only prove to be a “clog in the wheel of progress” of the nation.
  • The need of the hour was quick law-making which would be obstructed by the second chamber.
  • Lokanath Misra vehemently opposed parity of powers in law-making for the Upper House.

Arguments in Favour:

  • Naziruddin Ahmad felt that it would introduce an element of sobriety and second thought besides lending voice to the constituent units in the legislative scheme of things.
  • M. A. Ayyangar argued that a second chamber would enable the genius of the people to have full play besides checking hasty legislation.
  • Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the first Chairman of the Rajya Sabha said that Parliament is not only a legislative body but also a deliberative one which enables the members to debate major issues of public importance.
  • He echoed what James Madison said: the role of the Upper House is to be a deliberative body besides balancing the “fickleness and passion” of the elected House.

Significance:

  • In The Federalist, the famous essays written in 1787-88 it was stated that the second chamber enables a second and reflective expression of representative opinion besides checking the propensity to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions.
  • The French philosopher Montesquieu said, “The legislative body being composed of two parts, they check one another by the mutual privilege of rejecting”.
  • Walter Bagehot later noted that the retarding chamber will impede minor instances of parliamentary tyranny, though it will not prevent or really impede revolution.

Need of second chamber:

  • The House elected directly by the people is susceptible to passions of the moment and electoral considerations.
  • Their imprint on legislation needs to be checked by the second chamber whose members are expected to be sober, wise and well-informed with domain knowledge.
  • As can be gleaned from the Constituent Assembly debates and the experiences of other Parliaments, the mandate of the Rajya Sabha is legislation.
  • Hence, the role of Rajya Sabha is to revise or delay legislation without proving a clog in the wheel of the progress; to represent the interests of the States as a federal chamber; and be a deliberative body holding high-quality debates on important issues.

Conclusion:

In the words of M.A. Ayyangar, “the most that we expect the Second Chamber to do is perhaps to hold dignified debates on important issues and to delay legislations which might be the outcome of passions of the moment until the passions have subsided and calm consideration could be bestowed on the measures which will be before the Legislature.” This holds true to recognise the instrumental role played by the second chamber. 

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