The Union Legislature—The Parliament
Under the Constitution, the legislature of the Union is called the Parliament. The Indian Parliament is constituted
on the basis of the principle of bicameralism, that is, the legislature having two Houses or Chambers. As the Constitution established a federal system of government, there was almost unanimity among its framers for achieving a balance between the direct representation of people and the representation of the States by setting up two Houses, one representing the people as a whole and the other the States. The two Houses of the Parliament are : the House of the
People (Lok Sabha), and the Council of States (Rajya Sabha). The names of the Houses fairly reflect the character of their composition. The House of the People is composed of directly-elected representatives on the basis of adult franchise and territorial constituencies. The Council of States is composed mainly of representatives of the States elected by the State Assemblies.
As laid down in Article 79, Parliament consists of the President and the two Houses. Making the President a part of the Parliament is in conformity with the principles and traditions of parliamentary government. In England, the Parliament comprises the King (or Queen), the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In contrast, the President of the United States is not a part of the American Congress. Whereas the presidential system of government emphasises the separation of the executive and legislative powers, the parliamentary system lays stress on the intimate relationship and the inter-dependence of the executive and the legislature. Ministers of the government are at the same time members of the legislature. Although the President himself is not a member of the legislature, his participation in the legislative process is ensured by making him a part of Parliament. The fact that he is the chief executive authority and that the executive power is coextensive with the legislative powers also makes it necessary that the President should become an integral part of Parliament.
House of the People
Composition : The House of the People or Lok Sabha is popularly known as the “Lower House” of Parliament and its members are elected directly by the people. Unlike many other constitutions, the maximum number of members to be elected to the Lok Sabha is fixed by the Constitution. Originally, this number was fixed at 500. But the Seventh Amendment of the Constitution, following the reorganisation of States in 1956, raised it to 520. At present, the maximum possible strength is 552, including 2 nominated Anglo-Indians. The Thirty-first Amendment of the Constitution in 1973 further raised it to not more than 545. Of these, a maximum of 20 seats are reserved for the Union Territories. (This figure of 20 stands altered to 13 with the three Union Territories, i.e., Arunachal Pradesh, Goa and Mizoram, getting Statehood.) The remaining members are to be chosen by direct election from territorial constituencies in the States. For this purpose, to each State is allotted a certain number of seats on the basis of its population in proportion to the total population of all the States. For the purpose of election, each State is divided into territorial units called constituencies which are more or less of the same size in regard to population.
The present total strength of the House, which is 545, includes two Anglo-Indian representatives who are nominated to the House by the President. This is in accordance with a special provision in the Constitution under which the President will nominate not more than two members of the Anglo-Indian community to the Lok Sabha if this community is not adequately represented in the House (Article 331). On the basis of the 1951 Census, India had a population of
361 million. But in 1971, it was about 548 million, in 1981, about 684 million, in 1991, around 844 million and as
per 2011 Census, the population rose to 1.21 billion. With the present 543 elected members in the House, one member, at present, represents about 2.2 million of the population.
The election to the Lok Sabha is conducted on the basis of adult franchise, every man or woman who has completed the age of 18 years being eligible to vote. The Constitution provides for secret ballot. The electioneering process followed is
‘first-past-the-post’—a candidate who secures the largest number of votes is declared elected. Some members had advocated the system of proportional representation for the election of members to the Lok Sabha. This was opposed by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar who pointed out that with the present standard of literacy, India was not ready for proportional representation for election of members to the Lok Sabha. Further, proportional representation might bring about a multiplicity of political parties and a chronic instability in government.
The normal life of the Lok Sabha is five years from the date of its first meeting, but it may be dissolved earlier by the President of India. The President is also empowered to extend the life of the House for one year at a time during a national emergency. But in any case, the life of the House cannot be extended beyond six months after the emergency has ceased to operate. The House shall meet at least twice a year and the interval between two consecutive sessions shall be less than six months. The time and the place of meeting will be decided by the President who will summon the House to meet. He has also the power to prorogue the House, that is, to put off the meeting of the House from one session to another.
Qualifications : There is hardly any qualification that the Constitution prescribes for a member of Parliament except that he should be a citizen of India and has completed the age of twenty-five years, if he seeks election to the House of the People and thirty years, if he seeks election to the Council of States. A striking feature of the electoral law is that a candidate for election to the Lok Sabha may stand from any parliamentary constituency in any of the States in India. Such a provision, which is almost unknown in other federal States, is an incidence of the principle of citizenship which emphasises the unity of the nation. A person who seeks election to the Council of States, however, should be an elector in any of the parliamentary constituencies of the State from which he is standing for election. This emphasises the principle that the Rajya Sabha is a representative of the States.
The Constitution has laid down certain disqualifications for membership. These are: (1) no person can be a member of both the Houses of the Parliament or a member of Parliament and of a State legislature at the same time. There is no bar to a candidate contesting at the same time for as many seats as he likes, or to as many legislatures as he likes. But, if he is elected to more than one seat, he should vacate all except one according to his choice. If the same person is elected to both a parliamentary seat and a seat in a State legislature and if he does not resign his seat in the State legislature before a specified period, his seat in Parliament will become vacant; (2) a person will be disqualified if he absents himself for a period of sixty days from the meetings of the House without the permission of the House; (3) if he holds an office of profit under any government in India; (4) if he is of unsound mind; (5) if he is an undischarged insolvent; (6) if he voluntarily acquires the citizenship of another country, or is under any acknowledgement of allegiance to a foreign State.
In pursuance of the powers granted under Article 327 to regulate matters of election, Parliament passed in 1951 the Representation of the People’s Act which too lays down certain conditions for disqualification. These are: (1) a member of Parliament should not have been found guilty by a court or an election tribunal of certain election offences or corrupt practices in election; (2) he should not have been convicted by a court in India of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for a period of more than two years; (3) he should not have failed to lodge an account of his election expenses within the time and in the manner prescribed; (4) he should not have been dismissed for corruption or disloyalty from government service; (5) he should not be a director or managing agent or hold an office of profit under any corporation in which the government has any financial interest; and (6) he should not have any interest in government contracts, execution of government works or service. These disqualifications should not exist on the date of nomination of a candidate for election and on the date when the results are declared.
Council of States
The Council of States is the “Upper House” of Parliament and is popularly called the “House of Elders”. In spite of the academic and theoretical denunciations of second chambers, the Constituent Assembly was practically unanimous about the usefulness and necessity of the Council of States as an integral part of the general scheme of the Union Government.
The maximum strength of the House is fixed at 250. At present, the strength of the House is 245. Of these, 12 members are nominated by the President. The remaining 233 are elected by the various State Legislative Assemblies, thus making the Council predominantly an indirectly elected body. For the purpose of this election, to each State is allotted a certain number of seats in the Council. The main basis of such allotment is the strength of the population in each State. But this is not the sole consideration. The smaller States have been accorded some weightage in representation.
Members of each State Legislative Assembly form the electorate for the purpose of electing the requisite number of members allotted to each State, thus ensuring the principle of State representation in the “Upper Chamber” of Parliament. The election of members to the Council from the State Assemblies is conducted in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote and voting is by secret ballot.
The Council of States is a permanent body. The members of the Council are elected for six years. At the end of every second year, one-third of the members retire and fresh elections take place to fill the respective vacancy. This provision enables the Council to retain its political complexion in a more stable manner than the Lok Sabha, which after every election is a completely new House.
Officers of Parliament
The Lok Sabha is presided over by the Speaker who is elected by the House from among its own members. The office of the Speaker is one of great dignity and authority. Once elected to the office, the Speaker cuts off his party and group affiliations and is expected to function in a true spirit of independence and impartiality. For the proper discharge of his functions, the Constitution vests in him a number of special powers. In addition to these, the Rules of Procedure of the House confer on him a variety of powers for the orderly and efficient conduct of the business of the House. The Speaker is, thus, the guardian and custodian of the rights and privileges of the members, the House as a whole and its committees.
The Speaker can be removed from office by a special resolution of the House passed by a majority of all the then members of the House.
A special feature of the Speaker’s office is that even when the House is dissolved, the Speaker does not vacate his office until immediately before the first meeting of the Lok Sabha after its dissolution. The Speaker is entitled to a regular salary. Within the period of over five decades during which the Speaker’s office has been in existence, conventions have already been established and the Speaker has, indeed, become a true symbol of the dignity and independence of the House as well as the guardian of the rights and privileges of its members.
The Deputy Speaker, who presides over the House of the People in the absence of the Speaker, is elected in the same manner in which the Speaker is elected by the House. He can be removed from office also in the same manner. When he sits in the seat of the Speaker, he has all the powers of the Speaker and can perform all his functions. One of his special privileges is that when he is appointed as a member of a parliamentary committee, he automatically becomes its chairman. By virtue of the office that he holds, he has a right to be present at any meeting of any committee if he so chooses
and can preside over its deliberations. His rulings are generally final and, in any case, so far as they relate to the matters under discussion, the Deputy Speaker may give guidance in the interest of uniformity in practice. Whenever the Deputy Speaker is in doubt, he reserves the matter for the ruling of the Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker, however, is otherwise like any ordinary member when the Speaker presides over the House. He may speak like any other member, maintain his party affiliation and vote on propositions before the House as any ordinary member. The Deputy Speaker is also entitled to a regular salary.
Panel of Chairmen
To facilitate the work of the House in the absence of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, there is provision for one of the members of the House out of a panel of six Chairmen, whom the Speaker nominates from time to time, to preside over
its deliberations. When the Chairman sits in the Speaker’s chair, he has all the powers of the Speaker just as the Deputy Speaker has when he acts for the Speaker. The Chairman, however, is just an ordinary member as soon as he vacates the Speaker’s chair. A healthy convention has been built up by which the Speaker nominates members on the panel of Chairmen irrespective of their party affiliations. As a result, some of the members of the panel come from the ranks of the opposition parties.
The Constitution authorises each House of Parliament to have its own secretariat staff and also gives them the power to regulate by law the conditions of service of those appointed to the secretariat staff. The Lok Sabha Secretariat is headed by a Secretary-General who is a permanent officer. He discharges, on behalf of the Speaker, the various administrative and executive functions connected with the work of the House.
Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha
While the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha are called the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, their opposite numbers in the Rajya Sabha are called the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman, respectively. The Vice-President of India is the ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. As the presiding officer of the Rajya Sabha, his functions and powers are the same as those of the Speaker. He is, however, not a member of the House.
In the absence of the Chairman, the House is presided over by the Deputy Chairman. He/She is a member of the House and is elected by the members of the House. He/She may be removed from his/her office by a resolution passed by a majority of all the then members of the Council. He/She is entitled to a regular salary.
The Council of States also has a panel of members called “Vice-Chairmen”, 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-General who discharges the same functions as the Secretary-General of the Lok Sabha.
The Two Houses
Although the participation and collaboration of both the Houses are essential for all legislative activities
and without such collaboration practically nothing can be done in the legislative field, the Constitution has recognised the superiority of the Lok Sabha over the Rajya Sabha in certain respects. The first and perhaps the most important of these is the relationship between Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The Upper House has hardly any control over the Ministers who are jointly and individually responsible for their actions to the House of the People.
It is not that the Ministers, if they so choose, can ignore the Council of States. The Council has every right to be fully informed of all matters connected with the Government’s activities which are raised on its floor. But it has no right to pass a censure motion against the Government of the day.
Secondly, the power of the Council of States with regard to Money Bills is almost negligible. Every Money Bill should be introduced in the Lok Sabha. It is the fundamental principle of every taxation measure that it should be taken only with the consent of the people. In a democracy, the people’s consent is essential both for the raising of public revenues and their spending. Here again, the people’s consent can be expressed only by a House which is elected directly by the people. Under the procedure established by the Constitution, however, the Council is not altogether prevented from scrutinising Money Bills. But its power is only of an advisory character. Every Money Bill passed by the House will go to the Council for its consideration and within fourteen days after the receipt of the Bill, the Council must take whatever action it deems fit. It may pass it, in which case the Bill goes to the President for his assent. If the Bill is amended or rejected by the Council, it goes back to the House where it is reconsidered and voted by a simple majority and sent to the President. Thus, in financial matters, the Rajya Sabha has only an advisory role and the Lok Sabha has the final say.
In all other matters of legislation, including Constitutional amendments, the extent of the Council’s power is the same as that of the House. A Bill can be initiated either in the House or in the Council. The Council may amend or reject a Bill that is passed by the House. If the House does not agree with the action of the Council, the contested measure is placed before a joint sitting of both the Houses and passed by a simple majority. As the total membership of the Council is less than even half the total strength of the House of the People, the House is naturally bound to win in a conflict of this nature between the two. A Bill passed in a joint sitting is sent straight to the President for his assent.
Besides, there are two other provisions which confer upon the Council, as the sole representative of the States, powers in its own right and to the exclusion of the House. These are of considerable importance from a Constitutional point of view. Under Article 249, the Council, with the support of two-thirds of its members sitting and voting, is empowered to declare that, in the national interest, Parliament should make laws with respect to a matter that is included in the State List. On the passing of such a resolution, it becomes lawful for Parliament to make laws with respect to that matter for the whole or any part of India for a period of one year.
The second exclusive power of the Council is connected with the setting up of all-India services. The special characteristic of an all-India service is that it is common to the Union and the States. As such, the setting up of such a service affects the powers of the States. Therefore, here again, the Council is given the power to decide by a resolution supported by two-thirds majority the question of setting up of an all-India service. Hence, any laws connected with such a service can be initiated only if the Council passes such a resolution. These provisions make the Rajya Sabha an important part of the governmental machinery and not an ornamental super-structure. It was not designed to play the humble role of an unimportant adviser, nor of an occasional check on hasty legislation. Its comparatively small and, therefore, compact size, its permanent character which ensures a certain degree of stability and continuity in thought and action, and its having a large number of “elder statesmen” among its members, and its broad-based representative character—all these, in course of time, should help to establish it not only as a respectable, but also beneficial and influential body though not equal in power in all respects with the Lok Sabha.