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Above: Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath/Photo: UNI

Seven states already have Legislative Councils in addition to a Legislative Assembly. MP could join them soon in a bid to get in people who could not get elected in the assembly polls

By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal

Madhya Pradesh is soon likely to become the eighth state in India to have a bicameral legislature. The Congress government led by Chief Minister Kamal Nath has set in motion the process for setting up a Legislative Council which it had promised in its election manifesto for the 2018 polls.

The legal and legislative affairs department has sent a draft proposal to the law department. A bill to this effect is likely to be introduced in the winter session of the Assembly. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Govind Singh said that legal aspects are being examined.

Sources in the government said that as a provision for a Legislative Council in Madhya Pradesh already exists, the state government might not require the centre’s approval for passage of the Bill which has envisaged 76 members in the proposed House.

In 1967, the then Congress government led by DP Mishra had a resolution passed in the Assembly for constitution of a Legislative Council by more than two-thirds majority. The resolution, which was sent to the centre for approval, is still pending. Successive governments did not pursue the matter.

In 1993, the Congress revived the promise of a bicameral legislature in its manifesto for the assembly elections but the government led by Digvijaya Singh did not implement the promise, citing the financial burden. The Congress retained the promise in its 1998 assembly polls manifesto, only to forget about it when it returned to power.

The BJP, which ruled for 15 years, did not promise a second Legislative House in its manifestoes for three assembly elections since 2003. Sources in the legislative affairs department said all that is required for the proposed Council to come into being is a cabinet nod and then the governor’s assent. The state assembly area already has a big hall earmarked for a Legislative Council.

According to Article 168 of the Constitution, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh currently have bicameral assemblies, i.e. both a Legislative Assembly and a Legislative Council. J&K too had one until the state was bifurcated into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.

A Legislative Council must consist of at least 40 members. The Council in Madhya Pradesh cannot have more than 76 members as the Constitution stipulates that “the total number of members in the Legislative Council shall not exceed one-third of the total number of members in the Legislative Assembly”. The MP Assembly has 230 members.

Article 71 of the Constitution provides for the option of a state to have a Legislative Council in addition to its Legislative Assembly. As in the Rajya Sabha, the members of a Legislative Council are not directly elected by voters. One-third of the members of the Legislative Council are elected by members of the Legislative Assembly from among non-members of the Assembly. One-third of the members are elected by the electorate consisting of members of municipalities/municipal corporations, district boards and other local authorities. One-twelfth are elected by an electorate consisting of persons with at least three years’ experience in educational institutions and who have been teaching within the state. Another one-twelfth members are elected by registered graduates. One-sixth (or remaining) members are nominated by the governor from among distinguished personalities in literature, science, art, cooperative movements and social service.

Former Deputy Speaker Rajendra Singh, who was the chairman of the Congress manifesto committee in 2018, said the party has discussed the issue and is serious about constituting a 76-member second House. A senior bureaucrat in the legislative affairs department said the proposal has huge financial implications and will require clearance from the finance department.

Sources in the Congress say whatever the financial implications, the party is serious this time primarily because the move will accommodate some senior workers and leaders and revive the organisation in several areas, especially in reserved assembly constituencies. Out of 230 constituencies, 47 are reserved for STs and 35 for SCs in Madhya Pradesh. The second House will open avenues to adjust people who can’t get elected for various reasons.

The BJP has not taken any position on the issue so far. Senior party leaders said they will wait for the proposal to come up before making the party’s stand clear. The BJP’s support is necessary for the proposed Council to become a reality as the Bill cannot be passed without the support of two-third members of the assembly. At present, the Congress has 114 and the BJP 109 members.

Unlike the Legislative Assembly, a Legislative Council is never dissolved as one-third of the members retire every second year and new members enter in their place.

Uttar Pradesh has the biggest Legislative Council with a total of 100 seats. Maharashtra follows with 78 seats. Bihar and Karnataka share third place with 75 seats each. Andhra Pradesh, after the creation of Telangana, has 58 seats, whereas Telangana has 40.

In Tamil Nadu, the DMK government had passed a law to set up a Council, but the subsequent AIADMK government withdrew it after coming to power in 2010. Andhra Pradesh’s Legislative Council, set up in 1958, was abolished in 1985 and was reconstituted in 2007. The Odisha assembly recently passed a resolution for a Legislative Council.

Proposals to create Councils in Rajasthan and Assam are pending in Parliament. The PRS Legislative Research website lists the status of both the Bills as pending.

Legislative Councils are weak legislative bodies and enjoy much weaker powers in the state legislature. Interestingly, members of Legislative Councils do not possess the right to vote for the president of India.

Opinion in the Constituent Assembly was divided on the idea of a Legislative Council. Arguments in its favour were that a second House can help check hasty actions by the directly elected House, and also enable non-elected individuals to contribute to the legislative process. Those opposed to the idea argued that a Legislative Council can be used to delay legislation.

Under Article 169, a Legislative Council can be formed “if the Legislative Assembly of the state passes a resolution to that effect by a majority of the total membership of the Assembly and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the Assembly present and voting”. Parliament can then pass a law to this effect.

The legislative power of the Councils is limited. Unlike the Rajya Sabha which has substantial powers to shape non-financial legislation, Legislative Councils lack a constitutional mandate to do so. Assemblies can override suggestions/ amendments made by the Council.

But the Kamal Nath government is not bothered about the legislative powers—or lack of it—of the Council. Its concern is to get selected people in the second House who could not be elected to the first one.

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