Explained: Functioning of Rajya Sabha (RS)

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

In the year 2020, around 69 members of Rajya Sabha will be retiring, leaving these seats vacant, along with the 4 seats which were vacant already. Hence, election for a total of 73 seats would be held this year.

Due to loss in several State assembly elections in 2018 and 2019, the ruling party BJP may face difficulty in attaining majority at this upper house. According to the current situation, there are total 250 seats in Rajya Sabha out of which 83 are with BJP and 46 is with the major Opposition, i.e. the Congress.

For the majority, a party would need to win 123 seats. BJP hopes for a win in the UP elections as it would give a lead of 10 seats. Congress has a chance of coming to power in the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. As Trinamool has majority in West Bengal it is confident about its 4 seats in Rajya Sabha. Due to the shocking loss in the Maharashtra state assembly elections it will be difficult for them to acquire the 7 seats. In Haryana, one of the two seats eyed by BJP can be considered safe since Ram Kumar Kashyap of INLD has joined BJP. 52 seats vacant includes the Bihar and Odisha seats which makes BJP, JDU and BJD confident about retaining their seats in the Upper House.   

Constitutional provisions regarding Rajya Sabha:

Article 86 – It lays down about the maximum strength of the Rajya Sabha as 250, out of which 12 are nominated by the President and 238 are representatives from the states and Union Territories. At present the strength is around 245, out of which 233 are representatives of states and Union Territories and 12 are nominated. The 12 persons nominated by the president have special knowledge and experience in the matters of literature, art, science and social service.

The Fourth schedule – It addresses the allocation of seats to the States and the Union Territories in the Rajya Sabha. The allocation is made based on the population of each state. If a new state is formed or an existing state is reorganized, the number of seats changes. The representatives of each state in the Rajya Sabha shall be elected by the elected members of the legislative assembly of the state with the system of proportional representation through a single transferable vote.

How are members elected?

The process of election is as follows:

  1. By Electoral college:

Members of the Rajya Sabha are elected by the method of indirect election. They are elected by the elected members of legislative assembly of the state and by Electoral College of that union territory with proportional representation system using single transferable votes. The Electoral College for union territory consists of elected members of the legislative assembly of that union territory.

  • Bye-election:

Rajya Sabha is a permanent house and is not subject to dissolution. 1/3rd of its members retire after every second year. The election held to fill the vacancy caused by death, resignation or disqualification is called a “Bye-election” (for remaining term only).

  • Election of presiding officers:

Presiding officers have the responsibility to conduct the proceedings of the House. The Vice President of India is the ex-officio chairman of Rajya Sabha. It chooses its vice-chairmen from amongst its members. A panel is also present which is elected by the chairman of the Rajya Sabha, to preside over the proceeding of the house in the absence of chairman and vice-chairman.

  • Appointment of the Secretary General:

The Secretary General holds the rank equivalent to highest civil servant of the union and is appointed chairman of Rajya Sabha. He advises on the matter of parliamentary matters. He is also the administrative head of the Rajya Sabha secretariat and custodian of records of the house.

Functions of the Rajya Sabha

The functions of the Rajya Sabha can be classified in the following categories

  1. Legislative

The Constitution has classified subjects for legislation into Union, State and Concurrent lists. A Bill can be introduced in either house of the parliament, i.e. the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha. A Bill introduced by a minister is known as Government Bill and a bill introduced by a private member is known as Private Members Bill.

A Bill passes through three stages: Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and then receives presidential assent. When there is deadlock between the two houses then it is resolved in a joint sitting.

  • Financial functions

Under the constitution financial legislation has been divided into two categories, namely money bills and finance bills. Neither can be introduced in Rajya Sabha. Only when a bill involves expenditure from Consolidated Fund of India then it can be introduced in Rajya Sabha. This bill also comes under the heading of financial bills. The Rajya Sabha can only make recommendations for the money Bill.

  • Deliberative functions

It is one of the most important functions. The Rajya Sabha focuses public attention on major problems affecting policies of the govt. this is done by deliberation on five-year plans, budgets, etc.

Powers of Rajya Sabha  

  • Legislative powers:

Rajya Sabha enjoys equal powers with Lok Sabha in ordinary law-making process.

  • Financial powers:

In the matters of financial powers, the Rajya Sabha becomes does not possess much power. A money bill can only be introduced in Lok Sabha, it goes to the Rajya Sabha only for consideration and recommendations. If under 14 days Rajya Sabha fails to pass the bill, it will be deemed to be passed, whether or not it is passed by the Rajya Sabha. Any amendments proposed by Rajya Sabha are not mandatory. It is to the discretion of the Lok Sabha to accept or reject the amendments.

  • Executive powers:

The council of ministers are responsible before the Lok Sabha and not the Rajya Sabha. Rajya Sabha can not remove ministers from their office, but can control some exercise over the ministers by criticizing their policies, by asking questions and my moving adjournment motions.

  • Amendment powers:

The Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha can together amend the constitution by passing an amendment bill with a two-thirds majority in each house.

  • Electoral powers:

Elected members of Rajya Sabha along with elected members of Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies collectively elect the president of India. Members of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha together elect vice president. Rajya Sabha members also elect Deputy Chairman from among themselves.

  • Judicial powers:

The Rajya Sabha along with Lok Sabha can impeach the president. It can also pass a resolution to impeach a judge of the Supreme Court and any High court. The charges against the vice president can only be brought by Rajya Sabha. Rajya Sabha can pass resolution for removal of officers like Attorney General of India, comptroller and Auditor General and Chief Election Commission.

  • Miscellaneous powers:

Rajya Sabha, along with Lok Sabha, can:

a) Approve ordinances issued by president

b) Ratify emergency proclamation

c) Make changes in the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and any High court             

d) Make changes in the qualifications for membership in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

  • Special powers:

a) Rajya Sabha can declare a sate subject as a topic of national importance by passing a resolution with two-third majority.

b) Rajya Sabha can create new All India Services or can terminate an existing All India Services.

Major contribution by the Rajya Sabha since independence

The Rajya Sabha held its first proceeding on May 13, 1952, after which it had contributed a lot in the socio-economic growth of the country. From its first session in May 1952 to its latest 49th session Rajya Sabha has held a total of 5466 sittings. It has been around 67 years from the date of its first sitting and it has already passed around 3817 bills, including 108 constitutional amendment bills.

There are 2282 members of the Rajya Sabha, amongst which 208 were women. The contribution of the Rajya Sabha can be seen through the legislation passed by it. When it comes to education, Rajya Sabha has empowered students with the right to free and compulsory education in 2009. When the women of the society were facing problems due to the men or due to the societal norms it helped the women by passing legislation like Hindu Marriage and Divorce Bill in 1952 as well as Muslim Women (Protection on Rights of Marriage) Bill in 2019. No matter what the issue was Rajya Sabha has always performed its duties by making legislations without getting influenced by the situations present at that time or societal pressures.

Conclusion

It can be seen that attaining majority in Rajya Sabha is indeed difficult. It has equal legislative power equals to Lok Sabha, except in the case of Money Bills. Functions mentioned states about the jurisdiction of the Rajya Sabha. The number of RS seats is proportionate to the population of the state so that there can be justified representation of each state.

The structure of the electoral process have been made deliberately, to keep necessary checks and balances on the powers of central government. Keeping all these points in mind, it can be concluded that the Rajya Sabha serves an important role in preserving the federal structure as mandated by the Constitution.

Author: Shefali Singh from Department of Law, PIMR, Indore .

Editor: Anna Jose Kallivayalil from NLU, Delhi.

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