Out House

Revival of the Upper House of the state legislature, called variously as the Legislative Council or the Vidhan Parishad, has become a new political contagion afflicting states. The enabling resolution for revival of the council for Tamil Nadu was passed in the Budget session of parliament. The speed with which the proposal moved through the Cabinet and parliament after the TN Assembly passed a resolution on the matter was proof of the DMK’s clout at the Centre. A view within the Union Cabinet that the issue should not be hurried through was ignored. After the parliamentary approval for TN’s move, Punjab has started the process to revive its Upper House. Andhra Pradesh brought its council back to life three years ago. All these states had once abolished the council. The other states which have a bicameral legislature are Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, UP and Maharashtra.

Councils hardly have any legislative value and do not contribute to better governance in any way. They are actually a waste of resources. There was a welcome trend from the 1960s to the 1990s in states to abolish the Upper House as it was realised that they were not useful, though in the case of Tamil Nadu, where it was abolished in 1986, the reason was MGR’s caprice. But now narrow political considerations are getting the better of good sense and public interest. State governments consider legislative councils as places where patronage can be distributed and as rehabilitation centres for those who cannot be accommodated elsewhere. A good number of the members are nominated. The representation given to local bodies is cited as a positive point. This a wrong claim because after the empowerment of local bodies there is no need to represent them at the state level. The upward mobility of local body representatives helps only centralisation, and their integration in state-level politics can possibly corrupt them.

The case for an Upper House is valid only at the national level where the Rajya Sabha, as the Council of States, embodies the federal nature of the state. There is no such constitutional or political rationale for legislative councils. They have no powers and no meaningful role, but the salaries and perks of the members are at par with those of Assembly members. They are white elephants and the states where they exist should actually abolish them. The historical and sentimental value sometimes attributed to them cannot match the moral and economic costs.

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