Politics

Andhra Pradesh Bid To Abolish Upper House Shows Legislative Councils Are Pointless

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy.
Snapshot
  • If it is felt that we need two houses of legislature, all states should be mandated to have them — and with adequate powers.

    Checks and balances cannot be an optional extravagance legislated at the will of the state executive and the ruling party.

The framers of our Constitution must have been having a poor day when they decided that states can choose whether they want an Upper House or not.

Parliament has an Upper House, the Rajya Sabha, in order to give states a voice at the Centre and also to put some checks on the powers of the Lok Sabha. Barring money bills, other pieces of legislation need the approval of the Rajya Sabha. The idea is to ensure that popularly-elected governments are not given a carte blanche to push through any law they like without proper consideration.

When it comes to the states, though, the Upper House — known as the legislative council as opposed to the Lower House, which is the legislative assembly — has been treated as an optional extra. States can either choose to have one, or not have one, and they can choose to play around with the idea by abolishing or establishing them at will. While the creation or abolition of councils has to be ratified by Parliament, the initiative lies with the assembly.

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Given the provisions of Article 169 of the Constitution, legislative councils are nothing more than political footballs. In Tamil Nadu, the establishment of a council has been another bone of contention between the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), with the former calling for one in 2010, and the latter calling for its abolition when it came to power in 2011.

In Andhra, a council was established in 1958, abolished in 1985, re-established in 2007, and now faces the axe from the YSR Congress Chief Minister, assuming the Centre is willing to play ball. The Centre can delay things since Parliament’s calendar is crowded.

The Constituent Assembly clearly wasn’t thinking when it decided to create checks on the Lok Sabha, but made the same bicameral system optional for states.

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Quite simply, the logic of putting checks on Lower House populism has been effectively dispensed with at the state level. Yesterday (27 January), the Andhra Pradesh assembly voted to scrap the legislative council since the latter has applied the brakes on the Chief Minister’s plans to have three state capitals instead of just one at Amaravati. The Chief Minister, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, is believed to have done this in order to cock a snook at the previous government’s bid to create a new capital at Amaravati after the state was bifurcated in 2014.

Under Article 169, “Parliament may by law provide for the abolition of the Legislative Council of a state having such a Council or for the creation of such a Council in a state having no such Council, if the Legislative Assembly of the state passes a resolution to that effect by 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.”

At the state level, councils are fairly toothless. Even if the council votes against a bill passed by the assembly, the latter can get its way by passing the bill a second time. This is not a privilege conferred on the Lok Sabha except for money bills. The Rajya Sabha has blocking power. For non-money bills, if there is a deadlock, the only way to break it is by holding a joint session of Parliament.

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Under Article 169, a legislative council will have one-third of its members elected by the assembly, another one-third by an electorate comprising members from municipalities, district boards and local authorities. One-twelfth are elected by teachers and another one-twelfth by registered graduates. The balance can be nominated by the Governor, which means the government has a say here too. The voting structure and composition of a council is thus heavily determined by the Lower House and the executive.

If the intention was to put some checks on the Lower House, it is the members of municipalities, local authorities and district boards who ought to have been given the bulk of the seats, just as the Rajya Sabha members are elected by state assembly members.

Most states have chosen not to have even this figleaf of opposition, with only Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh having legislative councils.

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Maybe, it is best to get rid of all legislative councils at the state level. At the very least, it would save money for the exchequer.

But if it is felt that we need two houses of legislature, all states should be mandated to have them — and with adequate powers. Checks and balances cannot be an optional extravagance legislated at the will of the state executive and the ruling party.

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