Essay on The Rajya Sabha – Composition, Functions and Powers

The Rajya Sabha or the Council of States is the Upper House of Indian Parliament. It is sometimes called the “House of Elders”. It is the Second Chamber in the Indian Parliament.

A Second Chamber is a necessity in a federal State. While the Lok Sabha represents the people, the Rajya Sabha represents the States. As a federal Second Chamber, it protects the interests of the Units in the federation,

Composition of the Rajya Sabha:

The Rajya Sabha is an indirectly elected House. The Constitution fixed the maximum number of membership of the Rajya Sabha at 250 (two hundred and fifty). Out of 250 members 12 are nominated by the President from amongst persons who have achieved distinction in Literature, Arts, Science and Social Service.

The rest 238 members are to be elected by the State Legislative Assemblies of different States and Union Territories. The Constitution has fixed the number of elected representatives from each State. The Table given above contains the required number of representative sent by different States.

The Constitution has fixed the maximum number at 250 which is just about half of the maximum membership originally fixed for the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha is the second biggest Upper House in the world, the first being the British House of Lords. The United States’ Senate has 100 members only.

The members of the Rajya Sabha are elected through proportional representation by means of single transferable vote. The number of representatives sent to the Rajya Sabha by States is fixed in proportion to their respective population. The smaller States in India have been given less weightage in representation.

For example, while Uttar Pradesh sends 34 representatives, Orissa sends 10 representatives only. This is slightly unfederal. While in the American Senate each State has equal voice, the weightage is given to more populous States in India.

In the words of T. K. Tope, “The framers of the Constitution followed the American model in giving representation to all States in the Council of States, the Irish model in providing for nomination and securing the services of men of eminence and experience. The system of election seems to have been borrowed from the Constitution of South Africa”.

Presiding Officers of the Rajya Sabha:

The Vice-President of India is the Ex-Officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. The Deputy Chairman is elected by the members of the Rajya Sabha.

The Deputy Chairman performs the duties of the Chairman when the office of the Chairman is vacant or during any period when the Vice-President is acting as the President.

Besides these two officers of the Rajya Sabha, there is a panel of members nominated by the Chairman for the purpose of presiding over the House in the absence of both the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman.

The Secretariat of the Rajya Sabha is headed by a Secretary, who performs the same functions as discharged by the Secretary of the Lok Sabha.

The Vice-President who acts as the Chairman is not a member of the Rajya Sabha. He has no right to, vote except in the event of a tie.

Nevertheless his position is held with high esteem and dignity. He occupies the same position as the Speaker occupies in the Lok Sabha. His powers are more or less the same like the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

As the Presiding Officer of the Rajya Sabha, he invites members to speak, decides points of order, maintains order and discipline in the House, puts questions and announces results. As the Presiding Officer of the House the Vice-President should be impartial.

The Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha vacates his office when he ceases to be its member. He can resign his office by writing to the Chairman. He may be removed from his office by a resolution supported by the majority members of the Rajya Sabha.

Functions, Powers and Utilities of the Rajya Sabha:

The Rajya Sabha is neither as powerful as the American Senate nor as powerless as the British House of Lords. The Rajya Sabha has equal powers with the Lok Sabha in respect of Bills other than money Bills.

Ordinary Bill can be introduced in it and unless passed by it, a Bill cannot be presented to the President for assent. In case of a difference over a Bill between two Houses, the Constitution of India provides for a joint sitting.

The Constitution of India provides that the President will summon a joint sitting where the fate of the Bill will be decided by the majority members present and voting. In case of Money Bills, the Rajya Sabha has the power of delaying it for 14 days. In case of impeachment, both the Houses have equal power.

The Rajya Sabha participates in the election of President and Vice-President. In regard to the approval of the Proclamation of Emergency issued by the President, the Rajya Sabha enjoys the equal powers with the Lok Sabha.

There are two special powers of the Rajya Sabha. Article 249 of the Constitution provides that if the Rajya Sabha has declared by a resolution supported by not less than Two-thirds of the members present and voting that it is necessary or expedient in the national interest that Parliament should make laws with respect to any matter enumerated in the State List specified in the resolution, it shall be lawful for the Parliament to make laws for the whole or any part of the territory of India with respect to that matter when the resolution remains in force. Another monopoly of powers of Rajya Sabha is to initiate a resolution for the removal of the Vice-President.

Advocates of unicameralism are critical about the utilities of the Rajya Sabha. They point out that the Rajya Sabha has no special functions which distinguish it from the Lok Sabha. Often there is unnecessary duplication of work and it is an expensive process too. The Lok Sabha is a popular House.

Its will should not be checked and controlled by an indirectly elected House. States are not equally represented in it. Its members are nominees of different political parties and they are not spokesmen of their respective States.

As Morris-Jones writes, “This does not seem to have made floor of the Council a battle-ground between the Centre and the States; a defence of ‘States’ rights’, an expression of regional demands, is just as likely to be heard in the other House……………Composed of men similar to those who sit in the House of the People, the Council has, not surprisingly failed to evolve a distinct role for itself”.

Professor Pant is highly critical about the future of the Rajya Sabha when he says, “The Council of States may soon become the rendezvous of retired or second rate politicians and statesmen”.

Abbe Sieyes posed the problem of Second Chamber by stating that “if a Second Chamber dissents from the first it is mischievous, if it agrees with it, it is superfluous”. As a great advocate of Unicameralism, Abbe Sieyes rejected the idea of Second Chamber on the ground that the law is the expression of the will of the people and the people cannot at the same time have two different wills on the same subject.

The necessity of Second Chamber has been defended on various other grounds. A Second Chamber provides a check to hasty and ill-considered legislation. It provides a delay in passing hasty legislation.

It examines and revises the bills passed by the popular House. In doing so it may bring about the flaws and defects in various Bills, which might have escaped the notice of the popular House. It also initiates bills dealing with non-controversial subjects. Time at the disposal of the popular House is too short.

Hence, Rajya Sabha by introducing such bills relieves the work of the popular House. Thus the Second Chamber is a necessity in a democratic country. Sir Henry Maine is of the opinion that “almost any Second Chamber is better than none”. As a single chamber is assumed to be “the apotheosis of democratic rashness”, a Second Chamber has become almost a dogma in Political Science.

All democratic countries in the world have provided for a Second Chamber. The working of the Rajya Sabha since 1950 has belied the criticisms directed against it. Consisting of elderly statesmen with experience and wisdom, the Rajya Sabha has played an important role in legislation and other functions that are normally assigned to a legislature.

The framers of our Constitution were keen to have a revisory’ and delaying chamber. In the words of Gopalaswami Ayyangar the Second Chamber was created by the makers of the Constitution, “to hold dignified debates on important issues and to delay legislation which might be the outcome of the passion of the moment”.

It is not made powerful because in a democracy the popular House which represents the popular will, should prevail. As it is rightly observed by a critic, “the Rajya Sabha is not all too powerful a body likes the U.S. Senate not only a dilatory body like the British House of Lords and the French Council of Republic. Virtual veto power over legislation like that of the Japanese system has not been accepted in our Constitution.

It is given only substantial revisory power, not equal powers over legislation. It does and should not require more than that because in a democracy, popular will should ultimately prevail.

The Rajya Sabha is not only the best constituted Second Chamber in the world, it is also the most well-balanced in its power to fit in modern democracy and to serve the constitutional purpose which a Second Chamber in a democracy is required to perform in the best possible manner”.

The Rajya Sabha had the unique privilege of being presided over by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, a philosopher and statesman of international repute and Dr. Zakir Husain, a grea educationist and statesman of world renown.

It also serves the purpose of Federal Second Chamber. It protects the interests of the States. Relation between two Houses is not usually marked with animosity and rivalry. The Legislative Assemblies of India can do much to help the Rajya Sabha to play its role effectively as a Second Chamber by sending good men of ability, integrity and character

To conclude with Dr. S. C. Dash, “The Indian Parliament has maintained a balance between the two Houses and it is not possible for the Lower Chamber to over-ride the Council of States in any matter other than financial legislation.

The Council cannot possibly have a grievance about the Money Bills inasmuch as the House of the People controls the Cabinet and it is their business to grant whatever funds are necessary for running the administration.

But once money has been appropriated and expenditure incurred, the Council through its representatives in the Public Accounts Committee can certainly make its voice heard and influence felt. Both in normalcy and in emergency, the House of the People must carry the Council with it if it means to organise a smooth administration for the Country”.