The Other House

Why legislative councils serve little purpose

Only seven states in India currently have legislative councils, including the country’s newest state, Telangana.
HARSHA VADLAMANI
Only seven states in India currently have legislative councils, including the country’s newest state, Telangana.
HARSHA VADLAMANI

SINCE THE NARENDRA MODI-LED National Democratic Alliance came to power last year, the biggest obstacle to the government implementing its legislative agenda has been the Rajya Sabha, where the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies are in the minority. Key bills have been repeatedly stalled by an aggressive opposition in the upper house, and these stalemates have spurred considerable debate about the role, and the relevance, of a second, indirectly elected branch of the legislature in a democracy.

There have been some sound arguments made for the importance of the Rajya Sabha in the Indian democratic system. Less thought has been given to the place of legislative councils—the second houses at the state level. In India, seven states currently have legislative councils—Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The state of Odisha is in the process of forming a second house, and has constituted a panel of state assembly members to study the legislative councils of Karnataka and Maharashtra and submit a report to the state government. With the issue under discussion, bicameralism at the state level requires serious re-examination.

During the writing of the constitution, the constituent assembly was, in general, not keen on such councils. Of the ten members who spoke in the debate on them, only two stood in their support; the majority considered the councils to be unnecessary and expensive. BR Ambedkar described the state legislative councils as a proverbial “curate’s egg—good only in parts.” The outcome of the debates was that the constitution made no permanent provision for the councils, leaving it to each state assembly to retain or abolish them. Since independence, Punjab, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu have abolished their legislative councils. Andhra Pradesh abolished its council in 1985, but reversed the decision in 2006. Rajasthan and Assam have passed resolutions in recent years to create legislative councils, but they are yet to be constituted.

Hippu Salk Kristle Nathan Hippu Salk Kristle Nathan is a researcher in development studies, and an assistant professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru. He can be reached at hsknathan@nias.iisc.ernet.in.

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