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The trend of Undermining the Role of Upper House

Synopsis: The ruling party who dominates the lower house is sometimes seen undermining the role of the Upper House. Such an approach dilutes the principle of bicameralism and undermines the spirit of the constitution.

Background:

  • The recent passage of the Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill in Karnataka’s legislative council has attracted criticism.
  • The reason for criticism is the bill was passed through a voice vote in place of a division vote as demanded by the opposition.
  • The opposition parties had a majority and didn’t support the bill. This has created an impression that the bill was passed without majority support. 

Instruments to undermine the Upper House:

  • First, the use of voice vote undermines the majority of opposition members in the upper house. In this process, the presiding officer gives a decision as per his judgment, because the names or numbers of legislators voting on each side are not recorded.
    • A similar thing was seen in the passing of controversial farm laws by Rajya Sabha in 2020.
  • Second, the presiding officer sometimes declares a bill as a ‘money billeven if it is not covered under the definition of a money bill. 
    • As the second house can only give recommendations on it and can’t stop its passage.
    • For Example, Aadhar, electoral bonds, retrospective validation of foreign political contribution, etc. passed as money bills.
  • Third, the government promulgates the ordinance and frequently re-promulgates it. 
    • This is an abuse of temporary legislative power given to the executive who tries to give it permanency by re-promulgation. 
    • The objective is to forbid the second house from performing its constitutional role as the majority is already enjoyed in the lower house.

Role of Upper House:

  • First, it gives credible second opinions on bills introduced by the ruling party in the lower house.
  • Second, to prevent the country from the brute will of the majority of one party in the lower house. This becomes crucial as even the courts are barred from intervening in the legislative process.
  • Third, it duly represents the interests of states at the national level. Rajya Sabha is representative of all the Indian states.
  • Fourth, it upholds the principle of separation of powers in a robust way. The majority of the executive is often chosen from lok sabha by the ruling party. This allows the executive domination over the legislature and easily passes bills in Lok Sabha.

Way Forward:

  • The speaker/chairman of the house must act in the spirit of positive morality. It would allow him to function objectively.
  • The demands of opposition should be respected. For example, division vote instead of voice vote should be used.
  • The money bill issue can be rightly tackled if SC hearing the case over its misuse, gives its verdict in due time.
  • The executive and ruling party must respect the dissent of the Second chamber as done in case of repeal of the 42nd amendment. 
    • Janta Government was not able to completely repeal it as Congress enjoyed a significant majority in Rajya Sabha.
  • Greater focus on debates and discussions should be done rather than solely focusing on quick passing of bills. 
    • The Parliament was not convened for a long time during the pandemic and later got convened after suspending the question hour so that swift passage can happen. This approach needs to change.

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