Recently, West Bengal government has approved the setting up of West Bengal Legislative Council. It was one of the highlights TMC’s Election Manifesto.
Bicameral legislature or legislature with two houses have a long history in India. The Montagu-Chelmsford reforms of 1919 led to the formation of the council of states at the Central level. Government of India Act, 1935 set up bicameral legislatures in Indian Provinces and hence, a legislative council was setup in Bengal province in 1937.
The West Bengal Legislative Council remained in existence till 1967. After midterm elections in 1969, the second United Front came to power and abolished the Legislative Council (In the 32-point programme on which it had fought the elections, point number 31 was about abolition of Legislative Council).
What is a legislative council?
India has a bicameral parliamentary system, with two Houses of Parliament. So, states have a Vidhan Sabha or legislative assembly, and may or may not have the Vidhan Parishad or the legislative council.
Legislative assembly members are elected directly by the people. Legislative assembly members, the governor, and a few other stakeholders then elect members to the legislative council.
Power of formation of State Legislative Council (SLC)
Article 169 of the Constitution allows Parliament to create or abolish the council in a state if the legislative assembly of that state passes a resolution for the purpose by a special majority, i.e. 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.
Strength of the House
Article 171 clause (1) of the Indian Constitution says that total number of members in Legislative Council of a state shall not exceed 1/3rd of the total strength of the legislative assembly of that state and the total number of members in the council of a state shall in no case be less than 40.
40 <=Strength of Legislative Council <= 1/3rd members of Legislative Assembly
How are the members elected?
i) 1/3rd of members are elected by members of the Assembly
ii) 1/3rd by electorate consisting of members of municipality, district board and other authorities of the state.
iii) 1/12th by registered graduates
iv) 1/12th by an electorate consisting of teachers
v) The remaining members are nominated by the Governor from among those who have distinguished themselves in literature, science, art, the co-operative movement, and social service.
Relevance and Authority of SLCs
Six states are having legislative councils as of now and they are Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Karnataka. In 2019, the J&K legislative council was abolished through the J&K Reorganization Bill, 2019, which reduced the state of J&K to Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.
Legislative Councils have a minor role to play in decision making. For example,
i) SLCs have negligible role in introduction and passage of money bill. SLCs can delay it by 14 days only.
ii) The final power of passing an ordinary bill lies with the SLAs.
iii) SLCs have no say on Constitution Amendment Bill.
iv) The council can only discuss budget but can’t vote on the demands for grants.
v) Even the existence of SLCs depends on the will of the SLA. Council can be abolished by the parliament on SLA’s recommendation.
Hence, they are not that much relevant when compared to SLAs. However, they can be said as a checks and balancing tool which
i) prevents SLAs exercising too much executive authority or legislation
ii) SLCs provide a diverse platform where people from different backgrounds with significant knowledge in some specific field can serve without being a part of active politics.
iii) A bicameral legislature always provides for proper deliberations on budget and important laws which requires time and careful drafting.
Hence, while on one hand the creation of legislative councils is supposed to put in place checks and balances for hasty decisions, on the other hand, it is often criticised for being an entry point for leaders who could not win an election.
The arguments against creation of legislative councils also centre around the financial strain that it has on a state.
Debate in Constituent Assembly over SLCs
The arguments in support of Rajya Sabha was that a second chamber acts as a check on hasty legislation and brings diverse voices into legislature. However, the same argument did not cut ice with many members when it came to the states.
Prof K T Shah, from Bihar, said a second chamber in states “involve considerable outlay from the public exchequer on account of the salaries and allowances of Members and incidental charges. They only aid party bosses to distribute more patronage, and only help in obstructing or delaying the necessary legislation which the people have given their votes for”.
Thus, the framers of the Indian Constitution gave states the option to abolish and overrule the council if there was a disagreement be them on a law.
The parliamentary panel that examined Rajasthan’s bill for creation of a legislative council had suggested that a National Policy for creation and abolition of councils be put in place, so that it is not left to the “whims and fancy” of the governments.
Government must work in this direction and streamline the process by formulating a National Policy for creation and abolition of councils.