Does Odisha need a legislative council?
The Naveen Patnaik Government has initiated the parliamentary process of establishing a State Legislative Council (SLC) in its legislative structure. It is billed to be a 49-member body with an annual outlay of `35 crore from the state exchequer.
A bicameral legislature at the state-level and its purported benefits have been a contentious issue. Only seven states in the country currently have an Upper House (UH) and there is no illustrative benefit of having one. Indeed, attempts to create SLCs in some other states have not made swift progress and have been put on the backburner. Two such Bills for establishing Legislative Councils initiated by two currently BJP-ruled states Assam and Rajasthan were introduced in the Rajya Sabha (Council of the States in the Parliament) five years back and are still pending. Further, states like Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Tamil Nadu have established and also abolished their SLCs.
The creation of Odisha’s SLC will be a long-drawn process. In the ongoing Assembly session, the state government has passed with a majority a resolution for the establishment of the Council. But for its coming into being the Parliament will have to enact a law. It is worth mentioning here that a Parliamentary Committee that studied the Bills for Assam and Rajasthan have cleared the proposals with a pinch of salt. It has advocated for the Central Government to frame a federal policy on having an Upper House (UH) in state legislatures in order to preclude a possibility of a succeeding government abolishing it.
The few benefits of having an UH are at best anecdotal (not empirically studied) in nature. The UH like Rajya Sabha provides a mechanism for a more careful and sober appraisal of legislation that the incumbent government may want to enact. It provides a forum for intellectuals and academicians, and successful people in various walks of life, who may not stand the rough and tumble of electoral politics, to have a say in legislative business of the state.
While justifying the provision of an SLC in a state, many cite the case of the Rajya Sabha. However, such experts conveniently forget the fact that the Rajya Sabha represents the states in the federal polity and is different in utility and efficacy. Since laws made by the Parliament have an overarching effect on the national affairs, a moderating deliberative entity has provided checks and balances in the law-making process to the tyranny of the popular majority in the Lok Sabha.
Persuasive evidence on SLCs in seven states and also the Rajya Sabha shows that the UH is largely used to accommodate political party functionaries who fail to get elected or are out of power or government office for some time. It is largely used for pacifying disgruntled politicians or dissidents and in some cases, the super-rich who use it as an ornament to their resumes. The earlier hallowed objective of giving the public intellectuals a chance in participating in the law-making has arguably gone for a toss.
Moreover, the Bills presented and accepted in the popular House become subject to the uncertainties involving the numerical composition of the UH for its passing. The inordinate delay in passing a law has been observed in many instances in the Parliament as well as in the existing SLCs.
There is also a logic-defying provision for having a certain number of graduates and teachers represented in the SLC. As literacy and education levels have increased, graduates are no longer a scarce community. Furthermore, real scholarly gravitas of a candidate cannot be ensured by a graduation certificate at a time when the quality of education and academic standards are declining. Every other political party today boasts of different professionals as its members. Even without a quota for graduates, a large number of graduates and higher qualified people will invariably find place in the SLC.
Odisha may be able to create an Upper House if the Central Government plays along, but before that happens, the proposal has thrown open the debate on the relevance of SLCs in the first place and the need for a national consensus thereon.
Panda is Assistant Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Management Amritsar.
Views are personal.