Indian Parliament: Unicameral or Bicameral?
Most democracies in the world, barring a few African nations have a bicameral parliament: a first and second chamber or an upper and lower house. So, is India's parliament bicameral or unicameral? Bicameral, you'd say since India's parliament has two houses: the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, the Upper and Lower houses respectively. But does having two houses necessarily translate in to bicameral strength? While many of us know about the composition and functioning (or otherwise) of the Lok Sabha, what is the extent of understanding of the Rajya Sabha? The first is composed of members on the basis of representation of states (with 12 nominated members) while the latter is composed almost entirely of elected representatives, with a couple of seats filled by nomination.
Arend Lijphart, a world renowned political scientist who had put forward a schema for analysing bicameral strength, maintains that the method of selection is just as important as, if not more than, the constitutional powers. Direct elections confer a sense of legitimacy that nominations and appointments does not. So, by this definition, one could conclude that India's bicameral parliament is really unicameral.
However, there is another dimension to legitimacy that must be considered. Meg Russell, in her analysis of the reforms of the House of Lords in the UK, says that in addition to the composition and method of selection, one must scrutinise the reason for existence of the second chamber. The purpose of a bicameral parliament is, apart from other things, the second chamber keeps a check on the first. This means acting as a constitutional safeguard and ensuring that legislation is thoroughly scrutinised. In India, however, this translates in to the Rajya Sabha giving a mere nod to Bills originating in the Lok Sabha, since more often than not the house is dominated by the ruling party. The Constituent Assembly saw many opposing views, one of which was that the Rajya Sabha would be "a cog in the wheel of progress" and that there was no need for an Upper House. But the dissenting view, that which was the dominant one at the end, was that a second chamber was absolutely essential.
Shri Gopalswamy Ayyangar maintained that "The most that we expect the second chamber to do is perhaps to hold dignified debates on important issues and to delay legislation which might be the outcome of passions of the moment until the passions have subsided and calm consideration could be bestowed on the measures which will be before the Legislature; and we shall take care to provide in the Constitution that whenever on any important matter, particularly matters relating to finance, there is conflict between the House of the People and the Council of States, it is the view of the House of the People that shall prevail. Therefore, what we really achieve by the existence of this second chamber is only an instrument by which we delay action which might be hastily conceived, and we also give an opportunity, perhaps, to seasoned people who may not be in the thickest of the political fray, but who might be willing to participate in the debate with an amount of learning and importance which we do not ordinarily associate with a House of the People."
Except in the case of Money Bills, both Houses enjoy equal powers; a Money or financial bill can originate only in the Lok Sabha and be presented to the Rajya Sabha for approval. The latter can detain the bill only for 14 days, and none of its suggestions are binding. In other words, the Rajya Sabha is constitutionally allowed only to delay legislation on financial matters rather than initiate it. In case of other bills, the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs decides in which house non-financial bills are introduced. This obviously depends on the Minister's preference and it is more likely that a government bill is allocated to the Lok Sabha where it stands a higher chance of approval. So while the Rajya Sabha has "equally" strong powers it is hardly ever called upon to exercise them and we wouldn't be far from the truth to say that the Indian Parliament is unicameral in essence.