New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha, which is constitutionally known as the ‘Council of States‘, is the Upper House of the Parliament of India. The Government of India Act, 1919 provided for the creation of a ‘Council of State’ as a second chamber of the then legislature with a restricted franchise which came into existence in 1921. On December 9, 1946, the Constituent Assembly met for the first time and in 1950, it became ‘Provisional Parliament’. It was unicameral till the first elections were held in 1952. In the Constituent Assembly, a raging debate took place over the necessity of a Second Chamber in Independent India and ultimately, it was decided that a single directly elected House could not meet the challenges of free India.
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That is why a second chamber, known as the ‘Council of States’ was created with different composition and election process from that of the directly elected House of the People (Lok Sabha). The Rajya Sabha held its first sitting on May 13, 1952.
Read more: Composition of rajya sabha
Composition of the Rajya Sabha
According to Article 80 of the Constitution of India, the maximum strength of the Rajya Sabha can be 250. The President of India can nominate 12 members and 238 members will be representatives of the states and Union Territories. Currently, the strength of the Rajya Sabha is 245, and among them, 233 members are representatives of the states and UTs and 12 members have been nominated by the President. The members nominated by the President are eminent persons who are highly distinguished in their respective fields.
Allocation of seats in Rajya Sabha
According to the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution of India, the allocation of seats in the Rajya Sabha is made on the basis of the population of each state. Because of the reorganisation of the states and the creation of new states, the number of elected seats allotted to the states and UTs have undergone several changes since 1952.
Eligibility to become a Rajya Sabha member
Article 84 of the Constitution of India states that a person must have the following qualifications to become a member of the Rajya Sabha:
- The person must be an Indian citizen and make and subscribe before an Election Commission official an oath or affirmation according to the form set out for the purpose in the Third Schedule to the Constitution.
- The person must be 30 years old, or more.
- The person must possess such other qualifications as may be prescribed on that behalf by or under any law made by the Parliament of India.
The disqualification factors
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Article 102 of the Constitution states that a person shall be disqualified if:
- The person holds any office of profit under the Indian government or any state government, other than an office declared by Parliament by law not to disqualify its holder.
- The person is of unsound mind and it is confirmed by a court.
- The person is an undischarged insolvent.
- The person is not an Indian citizen, or has taken up the citizenship of a foreign country, or is under any acknowledgement of allegiance or adherence to a foreign nation.
- The person is disqualified by a law made by Parliament.
How are the members of Rajya Sabha elected?
The representatives of the states and UTs are elected via indirect election. They are elected by the elected members of the Legislative Assembly of the members of the respective states and by the members of the electoral college for that UT, in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. The National Capital Territory of Delhi’s electoral college comprises the elected members of the Legislative Assembly of Delhi, and that for Puducherry comprises the elected members of the Puducherry Legislative Assembly.
What is a bye-election for Rajya Sabha?
Rajya Sabha, a permanent House, is not subject to dissolution, but one-third of its members retire after every second year. A member elected for a full term serves for six years. If a seat is vacated by reason other than the retirement of a member, then an election is held which is known as the ‘bye-election’. The person who is elected remains a member for the remainder of the term of the member who had resigned or died or has been disqualified to be a member of the Upper House under the Tenth Schedule.
Chairman and Deputy Chairman
The Vice President of India acts as Rajya Sabha’s ex-officio Chairman. The current Chairman of Rajya Sabha is M Venkaiah Naidu, the Vice President of India. Also, the House chooses from among its members, a Deputy Chairman. The Chairman nominated the members who constitute the Panel of Vice-Chairmen in Rajya Sabha. If the Chairman and Deputy Chairman remain absent on any occasion, then a member from the Panel of Vice-Chairmen presides over the proceedings of the House. Also, the Chairman appoints a Secretary-General whose rank is equivalent to the highest civil servant of the Union.
The special powers
The Rajya Sabha does not enjoy the powers that are enjoyed by the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of Indian Parliament whose members are directly elected by the citizens of India. But the Rajya Sabha does enjoy some special powers.
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All the subjects or areas regarding legislation have been divided into three Lists – Union List, State List and Concurrent List. Now, if the Rajya Sabha passes a resolution approved by no less than two-thirds of members present and voting, saying that it is “necessary or expedient in the national interest” that Parliament should make a law on a matter enumerated in the State List, it will enable the Parliament to create a law on the subject specified in the resolution.
If a minimum of two-thirds of members present in the Rajya Sabha approve and vote, declaring that it is necessary to create one or more All India Services, it empowers the Parliament to create such services by dint of law.
Under the Constitution, the President of India can issue Proclamations during a national emergency, in case of failure of a state’s constitutional machinery, or in the case of a financial emergency. But both the Houses of Parliament must approve the Proclamation within a timeframe. However, Rajya Sabha enjoys special powers in this regard in certain scenarios. If the Lok Sabha has been dissolved or its dissolution takes place within the period allowed for its approval and the Proclamation is issued at that time, then also it remains effective if the Rajya Sabha passed the resolution that approves it, within the period specified in the Constitution under Articles 352, 356 and 360.
However, when it comes to Money Bill, the Rajya Sabha has very limited power. After a Money Bill is passed by the Lok Sabha, it is sent to Rajya Sabha for its concurrence or recommendation. The Upper House has to return such a Bill to Lok Sabha within 14 days. If it is not returned within that time, the Bill is deemed to have been passed by both Houses. Also, Rajya Sabha cannot amend a Money Bill, it can only recommend amendments that the Lok Sabha may either accept or reject.
But, the Union Budget is presented every year before Rajya Sabha for its members to discuss. Also, money cannot be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund of India unless both the Houses pass the Appropriation Bill. The Finance Bill is also brought before Rajya Sabha. Besides, the Parliamentary Standing Committees that examine the annual Demands for Grants of the ministries or departments are joint committees which have ten Rajya Sabha members.
Furthermore, in order to resolve a deadlock between the two Houses, the Constitution provides for the joint sitting of both Houses. To date, there have been three occasions when both Houses had met in joint sitting to resolve differences:
- 1961: Dowry Prohibition Act, 1958
- 1978: Banking Services Commission (Repeal) Act, 1977
- 2002: Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002