Why Every State should have a Legislative Council ?

By Dr. Rao V.B.J. Chelikani

In a system of democracy where Parliament is the most important decision-maker, it has always been considered necessary to sub-divide it into two houses with two kinds of representatives with different interests, so as not to allow concentration of power or majoritarian decisions to be imposed on the residents in a country. Of course, in any case, the judiciary is given the right to review the decisions to see whether they conform to the spirit and the letter of the constitution which is supreme in the polity.
1)                  Rajya Sabha, the Upper House in India is meant, at that time to protect the federal spirit of the political entity and to operate as a counter-power, when India lived before independence as a country of independent states. After 70 years of national integration of all the people, there are no more separate interests of any state to be protected. All citizens wherever they are enjoy the same status. Article 371 of the Constitution attends to the special needs of some residents of some regions. In any case, the Rajya Sabha, in practice has always been screwed to be in favour of doubling the political representation of the ruling party, which wants to have absolute power in making laws. The Upper House is functioning like a balcony in a cinema theatre, serving only to provide extra seats to those who could not be accommodated in the lower chamber. Some Rajya Sabha members are elected indirectly by the already elected members of the state assemblies (MLAs) and the seats are shared on the basis of the relative strength of the political parties. Whatever might be the category they belong to, most of them remain the faithful representatives of the political parties and are not representing any other specific interest or activity of the people. Even the regional political parties are not playing any role different from that of the role they are playing in the Lok Sabha. Neither the representatives are more competent to represent any other interests of the people, than that of either opposing the ruling party or opposing it in terms of legislation. Only 12 members, with special knowledge and experience in a vast number of subjects like literature, science, arts and social service are nominated to Parliament by the President. Special representation to the Anglo-Indians has no relevance any more.
2)                  In most of the states in India, the politicians in order to have unfettered freedom to take majoritarian decisions which are mostly, politically-motivated, keep only the Assembly to legislate. Very few states have Legislative Councils and in each Council, the members should be only 1/3rd of those in the Assembly. Further, the opportunity to decide upon the financial matters is denied to them. At present, one-third members are elected by the MLAs; one-third by the members of the Mandals and Zilla Parishads; one-twelfth are from teachers; one-twelfth are from graduates and one-sixth are nominated by the governor. Those who produce wealth and knowledge, such as economic actors and professionals, universities and scientists are not at all represented in the Assembly. All the activities of health care, science, culture, arts and crafts, media, industries, businesses, labour and other active productive forces, which can bring direct knowledge, experience, and vision into the laws have no place.
3)                  Since Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies represent the people vertically on the basis of some space and some numbers, ideally, the Rajya Sabha and the state legislative councils should represent the society horizontally in terms of its social, economic and cultural actors to supplement in the decision-making. In some countries, starting with the British example, the Upper House includes the judicial representatives also. While the members of the Lok Sabha have no time to think beyond the next election season, the RS or the Council members can think beyond about the future of the society in terms of long-term policies and their implementation. In some municipalities in Europe, elders’ councils are held. They need not have to promise freebies to the targeted voters and to take populist measures to please people instantaneously.
Proposal of Some Radical Reforms
In order to remedy the present undemocratic situation which is not serving the long term interests of the people, we need to recognize the need to take some radical  reforms, one day.
1)                  One best practice that can be intensified is that all the members of both the Houses should obligatorily participate in the Standing and Joint Committees regularly reconstituted by both the Houses. At present, all the bills are not entrusted to these Committees and all the members are not involved in them.
2)                  These Committees should always consult the civil society organisations in the country as well as the international governmental and non-governmental organisations. .
3)                  Both the chairperson and the speaker, as well as the Panels of Presiding Officers of both the Houses should resign from their political parties during their term so as not to be bound by the party whip and party interests. Madabhushi Ananthasayanam Iyyengar and Neelam Sangiva Reddy have already set such a good example.
4)                  Some Pre-Election Modalities:          
i).         Some kind of pre-selection process appears to be necessary before allowing anybody to contest as a candidate in the elections. There can be a preliminary aptitude test, oral or written, for the intended candidate to be conducted by the Election Commission of India and, as a result some ratings can be announced about their aptitude to deliver. Accordingly, the voters in that constituency can compare the candidates present and vote. Alternatively, while the affidavit is being filed by the candidates, in addition to their criminal background and financial situation, they can, further be asked to indicate the proof of their aptitude to be a legislator or a minister. Even the physical and mental conditions of the candidates to conduct public affairs are also to be assessed or profiled. In order to avoid senile senior leaders, China has fixed 68 years as the upper age limit to remain in public life.
ii).        Representing a bit of territory and an unspecified number of people living in it is not any more democratic enough. It was revolutionary enough in Feudal England, and it is not based on any holy criteria. Now, it can be abandoned in favour of more specific interests or needs-based criteria. The Rajya Sabha members and the MLCs could as well be elected by different categories of actors in the society, starting from the domestic helpers to the scientists, including former officials, private sector managers, the civil society organisations and foreign experts. Like the political parties, the chambers of the professionals of Commerce, Industry, health, education, Sciences, also should be able to present their delegates, by turns. The advantage with such candidates from productive activities is that they would go back to their original activities after finishing their mandate, without hanging around indulging in politics permanently.
iii).       Representatives of the regional and international organisations, as well as the non-resident Indians (NRIs) should also be given the membership, without the right to vote, as they would objectively bring in new knowledge, expertise and broader perspectives. They are already supplying foreign currency. They would widen the spirit of the decisions to remain in harmony with universal values and global practices, and also to promote better international relations and human understanding. This is one way to eliminate narrow nationalist tendencies.
iv).       A mid-term change of the ruling party, which is at the helm of affairs in the Assembly has been affecting the quality of policy-making and resulting in the wastage of public money due to reversal of policies. The prospects of partial elections, bye-elections, and mid-term elections have been directly affecting the policy decisions taken. The members of the RS, as well as the MLCs should be elected for a longer period, say for ten years, so that they can ensure more political stability, continuity and certainty in policies.
4)         Contrary to the present practice of restricting their role in ‘money bills’, they should be given statutory right to exercise veto, if necessary against some populist measures in legislation proposed by the Assembly.
5)         In the case of a seat of an elected member falling vacant anywhere, the candidate who received the next highest number of votes in that election held can be asked to sit as a member till the end of the term. Thereby, we can avoid political instability.
6)         A member should be allowed to serve only for one term, so that we can increase peoples’ participation.
7).        Some of the representatives can and should be persuaded by the civil society organisations, especially, when they are elected by a small majority or inversely by a vast majority, to resign from the party and be an independent member so as to become the representative of all the people in the constituency. The chairperson would not have an obligation to put such a member into one of the groups in the House, and the party-whip cannot whip him.
8)         Similar to the Election Watch activities, some civil society organisations dealing with good governance and developmental studies should carry out Legislation Watch and release an annual statement of the assessment of the performance of the legislators, in cooperation with the media. At present, the Speaker and the chairperson of the RS are doing it at the end of the sessions.
But, without the full cooperation and willingness of the present political class formed into political parties, none of the above proposals can see the light of the day. They would never accept the above, as they have a vested interest in the status quo. Understandably, though our Constitution could not envisage such a possibility, it is possible in the 21st century for the citizens to directly participate in the governance. In matured democratic countries in Europe, it is being called Citizens Initiative. The civil society organisations like the senior citizens and pensioners associations, resident welfare associations which are keen about good governance in our country should mobilise the public opinion and collect their signatures or votes in favour of some proposals. They can be sent as peoples’ demands to those authorities who are taking decisions at any level. This is not forbidden by any law. The European Parliament has accepted it as an obligation to take up for discussion any matter that is addressed to it by more than a million citizens from more than one country. Further, we can put pressure on the candidates before the elections to take a commitment towards such reforms.
Something must be done immediately to prevent people from becoming more disgruntled and cynical. In many African, Arab and Latin American countries, in such circumstances, the military or the religious chiefs are tempted to grab power by force, without any signs of disapprobation from the public. This has already happened in South Asia and in our own neighbouring countries.

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