All you need to know about the Rajya Sabha
There’s a lot of debate around the importance of the Rajya Sabha in Indian Democracy, with those against it arguing that it slows down decision making. The Indian legislature comprises two houses- The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. While LS members are directly elected by the people of India, RS members are elected by the MLAs from various states and UTs. So, do we really need another indirectly elected house when we already have a directly elected one? Isn’t that what Democracy is? Let’s discuss.
What are the major roles played by the Rajya Sabha?
- Rajya Sabha acts as the backbone of India’s federalism. It makes sure that the laws being made are not majoritarian and do not compromise on the integrity of the states
- Rajya Sabha acts as a revisionary house to keep a check on hasty legislation that could be passed by the lower house under popular pressure
- It acts as a platform for vulnerable sections to raise their voices, since they are not adequately represented in the Lok Sabha
What is the composition of Rajya Sabha?
Rajya Sabha has a maximum of 250 members, of which 238 are elected by MLAs. These seats are proportionally distributed between the states on the basis of their populations. The remaining 12 members are nominated by the President from the fields of arts, science, literature and social services (contrary to popular belief, there is no ‘sports’ category). The Vice President (currently M. Venkaiah Naidu) chairs the Rajya Sabha.
Rajya Sabha is a permanent house and never gets dissolved. Every member has a 6-year term and one-third of members are replaced every alternate year.
Some interesting facts
- If the LS is dissolved (in case of an emergency, for example), the decisions of the RS are the decisions of the parliament. This makes RS more important than the directly elected house
- The chairman of the RS is not a member of the RS. Reason? If he/she was to be elected from within the members, he/she would almost always be from the most populous state because of proportional representation
- Rajya Sabha has exclusive powers to create, dissolve or alter an all India service (IAS, IFS, IRS, etc.)
How is a bill passed?
We are going to focus on the constitutional amendment bills as these have a bigger role in the Rajya Sabha. Generally, a bill is introduced in the Lok Sabha. Once the Lok Sabha passes the bill, The Rajya Sabha evaluates and proposes amendments if necessary, in which case it goes back to the Lok Sabha for reconsideration. Once both the houses pass the bill SEPARATELY, it becomes a law after the President signs it. Other types of bills include ordinary bills, money bills and financial bills.
Voting for an amendment or a bill
In order to make a decision on a bill/amendment, it is subjected to voting. The chairman may choose to put the motion to either voice vote or division of votes.
If a motion is put to voice vote, people in favour raise their hands and say “Aye!” and others say “No!”. The chairman passes the motion based on whichever voice is louder. Surprised? However, even if a single member opposes this, the chairman is bound to provide a division of votes. Not doing so is a violation of the constitution.
How can the functioning of Rajya Sabha improve?
- Attendance: There have been members, especially the nominated ones who have had a record of very low attendance and have been called ‘Eid ka Chand’, like Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha
- Equal representation of states: Since the seats are proportionally divided on the basis of the populations, the smaller states generally do not have any say
- Minimum education qualification: Since RS is supposed to check the constitutional amendment laws being passed, education becomes extremely important
A democracy only works when the interests of those who did not vote for the ruling party are protected. India is the largest democracy of the world and the most diverse one. It is a union of multiple states, hundreds of languages and countless socio-cultural backgrounds. Federalism is the very backbone of this diversity and is an extremely important part of the country. Without Rajya Sabha, almost all the laws being passed would have been majoritarian and federalism would have been shattered into bits and pieces.