Why in News?
Recently West Bengal govt approved the setting up of a legislative council in the state which was abolished 50 years ago by a coalition govt of the left.
Syllabus–GS2: State Legislature.
Currently, only 6 states have a Legislative Council- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana & UP.
West Bengal’s Council
- The West Bengal Legislative Council remained in existence till 1969. But it was events in the second chamber two years prior that led to its abolition.
- The fourth general elections held in 1967 led to the Congress losing power in multiple states.
- In West Bengal, the United Front, a coalition of 14 parties, formed the government with Congress in the Opposition. Chief Minister Ajoy Kumar Mukherjee led the government with Jyoti Basu as the Deputy CM. But the coalition did not last long, and Governor Dharam Vira dismissed the government after eight months.
- P C Ghosh, an independent MLA who had earlier been Chief Minister, once again assumed the post with the support of the Congress.
- Different scenes played out in the two Houses of the West Bengal legislature. In the Assembly, the Speaker called the Governor’s actions unconstitutional. But the Congress-dominated council passed a resolution expressing confidence in the Ghosh-led government.
- This resolution sounded the death knell for the Legislative Council.
Origin of Legislative Councils:
- It has a long history that started with the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms which led to the formation of the Council of States at the national level in 1919.
- The GOI Act 1935 set up bicameral legislation in Indian provinces.
- That paved way for the functioning of the Legislative Council in Bengal in 1937.
- The Constitution framers initially provided legislative councils for Bihar, Bombay, Madras Punjab, the United Province & West Bengal & gave the power to abolish the second chamber.
- It also gave Legislative Assembly the power to override the Council in case of disagreement.
- It also capped Council membership to 1/3rd of the Legislative Assembly (Article 171(1)).
- Article 168 empowers the Legislative Assembly to create or abolish a Legislative Council by passing a resolution with 2/3rd majority of the Assembly members.
- Then the bill to this effect has to be passed by parliament.
Arguments against Legislative Council:
- During Constitutional debates, there was disagreement on having the 2nd chamber in states.
- The arguments that support in case of Rajyasabha did not cut ice with many members when it came to the Legislative Council.
- Prof K T Shah said that the Legislative Council involve considerable outlay on the account of salaries & allowances of Members.
- They only aid party leaders to distribute more patronage & only help in obstructing or delaying the necessary legislation.
- Powers of the Legislative Councils are limited and hardly impose any effective check on the Assemblies. Whether a Bill is approved by the Council or not, the assembly can still go ahead after four months.
- It serves only as a stronghold of vested interests of people, who are not interested in legislation. Instead, they may block such legislation initiated by popularly elected Legislative Assembly.
- Legislative Council can be utilized to accommodate discredited party-men who may not be returned to the Assemblies.
Arguments in Favour: Important tool of checks and balances.
- Legislative Council prevents the Legislative Assembly from exercising too much legislation or executive authority.
- Legislative Council provides a platform for diverse representation that acts as a forum for academicians and intellectuals, who are arguably not suited for the rough and tumble of electoral politics.
- The Councils also had a track record of sincere work, relevant amendments brought, non-confrontational attitude vis-à-vis legislative assembly, decorum and restraint in proceedings and drawing the attention of both government and public to matters of public interest.
Way Forward: –
- Garner had rightly opined that to counterbalance the undue preponderance of the popular element “a conservative force to curb the radicalism of the popular chamber” is essential.
- The State Legislative Councils were established to serve such a purpose. It was expected that the Upper House consisting of graduates, teachers, outstanding persons in the fields of art, literature, science, and social service, would check-mate the radicalism of the lower House.
- They were supposed to serve as a “check upon democratic outbursts” and provide an element of sobriety and second thought.
- However, the second chambers in our States have proved to be ornamental superfluities which a poor country like India can ill afford.
A bicameral legislature provides an opportunity for proper deliberations on important laws and budgets which require careful drafting and sufficient time. Comment.