West Bengal joins the queue for reviving Legislative Council

Resolutions adopted by Assemblies of Odisha, Rajasthan and Assam for reviving the second chamber are already pending in Parliament. AP Assembly meanwhile has passed a resolution to abolish the Council

 Mamata Banerjee (File Photo)
Mamata Banerjee (File Photo)

Kalyani Shankar

One more flashpoint has emerged between the Centre and West Bengal with chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet deciding to revive the Legislative Council last week. Revival of the second chamber is one of her campaign promises. Eminent people and veteran leaders who were not nominated for the assembly elections would be made members of the Vidhan Parishad, she had said.

The Legislative Council is constituted as per Article 168 of the Indian Constitution. Currently, only six states — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka — have a Legislative Council. Kashmir too had one, until the state was bifurcated into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh in 2019.

India’s transition from unicameral to bicameral legislature started under the Government of India Act, 1919, which established the Rajya Sabha in 1921. The Simon Commission in 1927, citing complexity and expenditure, was divided about its feasibility. Then the Government of India Act of 1935 set up bicameral legislatures in Indian provinces.

The Constitution gives limited powers to the Legislative Council.

Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, Bengal’s first chief minister after Independence, formed the Vidhan Parishad in 1952. When the Congress lost power in many states in 1967, the United Front coalition government in West Bengal got the Council abolished in 1969.Punjab followed suit, abolishing its Legislative Council later that year.

Some leaders argue that a second house is important as it can accommodate individuals and people of eminence who do not like to contest the Assembly polls, exactly what Mamata Banerjee says. They believe that it can act as a watchdog and keep a check on hasty decisions. Those against the move say that it is a burden on the exchequer and it is normally used to rehabilitate the politicians.

The Andhra Pradesh Assembly passed a resolution seeking to abolish the Council in 2020. The Council was first set up in 1958. Then the TDP chief minister N.T. Rama Rao got it abolished in 1985. The Congress chief minister Dr Y.S. Rajashekar Reddy got it revived in 2007. Last year, the Council dominated by the TDP referred three Capital Bills to a Select Committee, which provoked the current chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy to initiate measures to abolish the Council.

Creating or abolishing a Council has been a contentious issue for the last four decades in Tamil Nadu as well.

The M.G. Ramachandran government abolished the Council in 1986 to block the entry of DMK chief M. Karunanidhi. Since then, DMK has made attempts to re-establish the Council, and AIADMK has opposed such moves. Now that the DMK is back in power, revival of the Council is on the cards.

Congress in Madya Pradesh had passed a resolution in 1967 in the Vidhan Sabha but the resolution did not get the approval of the Centre. In 1993 and 2018 also the party had promised a bicameral legislature but could not fulfil its poll promise.

The Odisha Assembly recently passed a resolution for a Legislative Council. Proposals to create Councils in Rajasthan and Assam are pending in Parliament.

The debate on the relevance of the council continues in political circles. B R Ambedkar argued in the Constituent Assembly comparing it to the curate’s egg--good only in parts. The US ‘Senatorial saucer’ is also often cited. The story goes that when the then US President George Washington hosted a breakfast meeting with Jefferson who was against the Senate, “Why," asked Washington, "did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer, before drinking?"

"To cool it," answered Jefferson, "my throat is not made of brass." Even so," re-joined Washington, "we pour our legislation into the Senatorial saucer to cool it," resting his case.

Councils have also played a constructive role on occasion.

A deep study to find out the role of the Council in enhancing the legislature process needs to be taken up. But creation or abolition of Councils should not become a frivolous decision based on the whims and fancies of the egoistic leaders and political parties. A Parliamentary standing committee has suggested framing a national policy but it may not be the best way forward. Given these circumstances, it will be prudent to leave it to the states.

(IPA Service)

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