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DO NUMBERS MATTER IN RAJYA SABHA?

Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha: Cooperation in Divergent Composition

  • The Indian Constitution provides for parity of powers between the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in law, making an exception in some cases.
  • The Money Bill or Finance Bills can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha which only can approve the Demands for Grants.
  • The Rajya Sabha has some special powers such as: Requiring to adopt a resolution allowing Parliament to legislate on subjects in the State List and creating All India Services, approving proclamations of Emergency and President’s Rule when the Lok Sabha is dissolved.

A Comparison of Composition

  • Elections to the Lok Sabha are held every five years and before that on dissolution of the House.
  • For the Rajya Sabha, one-third of the members are chosen every second year reflecting its permanent nature.
  • While the Lok Sabha elections hold a mirror to the recent will of the people, the Rajya Sabha is envisaged to convey the same in different phases of development marking some continuity.
  • The Executive lasts only as long as it has a majority in the Lok Sabha, but in law-making, both the Houses are at par.

Divergent: Unlike Lok Sabha

  • During the past 68 years since the first general elections in 1952, the elected Government had a majority in the Rajya Sabha only for 29 years and was in a minority for 39 years.
  • This pronounced divergence in numbers in the two Houses of Parliament does not indicate any adverse impact on the broader course of legislation except in a few cases.

Joint Sittings

So far, Parliament held only Three Joint Sittings to resolve differences between both the Houses:

  • The first instance was in 1961 when the then Nehru government enjoyed a majority in the Rajya Sabha but the Dowry Prohibition Bill, 1959 suffered a defeat.
  • In 1978, the Banking Services Commission (Repeal) Bill, 1977 was rejected by the Rajya Sabha.
  • In 2002, the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002 could not pass the Rajya Sabha scrutiny.

Rajya Sabha and Obstruction of passing of Bills

  • As per the constitutional provisions, the Rajya Sabha at best could hold a Money Bill for 14 days during when it has to return such Bills without or with amendments for the consideration of the Lok Sabha.
  • There were occasions when the Rajya Sabha sat over Bills passed by the Lok Sabha for a long time including the Prevention of Corruption Bill, 1987 and the Dock worker (Safety, Health and Welfare) Bill, 1986.
  • The Rajya Sabha has also made amendments to several Bills passed by the Lok Sabha and these were accepted in several cases by the other House.
  • This goes to prove that numbers in the Rajya Sabha is not an issue as far as law-making is concerned.

Increasing disruptions

  • An analysis by the Secretariat revealed that the productivity of the Rajya Sabha till 1997 has been 100% and above and the past 23 years have thrown up a disturbing trend of rising disruptions.
  • Productivity fell to 87% during 1998-2004, 76% during 2005-14 and 61% during 2015-19.
  • This decline is primarily on account of disruptions forcing cancellation of Question Hour frequently.
  • Disruptions also dent the quality of law-making as seen in passing of Bills without discussion sometimes.
  • The time share on deliberations under instruments like Short Duration Discussions, Zero Hour, Special Mentions, Discussion on Budgets and working of ministries, Motion of Thanks to President etc., rose to 41.42 % during 2005-2014 and to a high of 46.59% during 2015-19.

Conclusion

  • What needs to be addressed by all the stakeholders is that while enabling Rajya Sabha to retain its independence, it should not be seen as ‘disruptive’ as evidenced over the past two decades.
  • Political passions should not be the basis of such disruptions, if the perception is that they are.
  • The line between obstruction and disruption is very thin and we should guard against it.
  • Both the sides of the House have a stake in proper functioning of Rajya Sabha.
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October 2022
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