The opportunities of being a part of unique and landmark events in one’s life time come rarely. I have heard many expressing a sense of deprivation for not being part of the freedom struggle and witnessing the subsequent dawn on the 15th of August, 1947. I was one among them to be honest.
Today, all of us have the honour of being associated with and part of the historic 250th session of this august House. I compliment all of you for this rare and unique opportunity worth cherishing for a long time.
Rajya Sabha came into being after extensive deliberations by the Constituent Assembly over the need for a second chamber of Parliament. Some opposed it and others supported it and in the process of that debate, the role and mandate of this august House was well defined.
This House held it’s first sitting on May 13, 1952. During the last 67 years, Rajya Sabha has played out it’s role in the socio-economic transformation of the country. This was also the period when democracy in our country grew from strength to strength consolidating itself with every election, defying the prophets of doom. We have adopted and executed the parliamentary democracy as the cardinal principle of governance based on rule of law and equality.
This momentous occasion is an opportune time for collective reflection on the journey so far and sincere introspection over the missed opportunities. This is warranted so that we don’t repeat the mistakes, if any, of the past. We need to learn from the experience of the last 67 years and if we don’t, there is an inherent risk of making ourselves irrelevant. That is precisely the reason for today’s discussion on “The Role of Rajya Sabha in Indian Polity and the way forward ”.
To give a brief account of the journey of Rajya Sabha since 1952, during the last 249 sessions, this august held 5,466 sittings and passed as many as 3,817 Bills. These include several pioneering and far reaching legislations that rewrote the socio-economic landscape our country. A publication titled ‘Rajya Sabha: The Journey since 1952’ brought out by the Rajya Sabha secretariat and released yesterday captures the finer and salient features of the contribution of this august House.
Our country has come a long way from the testing times of Independence to now being a voice to be heard in the complex global order. There were a number of challenges that stared at India at the stroke of freedom such as poverty, illiteracy, poor healthcare, low level of industrialization and economic growth, social orthodoxy, poor infrastructure, unemployment, inefficient agriculture, weak governance and financial institutions, inadequate institutional framework etc. Such a state of affairs set the agenda for the legislatures of sovereign Republic of India, and in particular, for the Parliament of India. The apex legislature of our country went about the task of nation building in a methodical and graded manner addressing different challenges from time to time, guiding the nation through the complex cobwebs. As a result, economic and human development indicators have substantially improved leading to better quality of life. We are the world largest democracy and a leading engine of global economic growth.
Rajya Sabha, with it’s unique role and position in our parliamentary scheme of things, made it’s contribution to the making of India of today. To summarise the same; “From passing the Hindu Marriage and Divorce Bill in 1952 to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill in 2019, from imposition of additional excise duty on dhotis to introduction of the transformative Goods and Services Tax in 2017, from passing the Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Bill in 1954 to the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Bill in 2019, from clearing the Andhra State Bill in 1953 to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in 2019, from passage of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences Bill in 19955 to the National Medical Council Bill in 2019, from setting up of the University Grants Commission in 1954 to empowering the Children with the Right to Free and Compulsory Education in 2009 and from passing the Preventive Detention (Second Amendment) Bill in 1952 to the Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Bill in 2019, this august House has played a significant role in addressing the challenges faced besides meeting the requirements of the nation from time to time. But we still have miles to go to make up for the time lost and opportunities missed, and in particular, about the functioning of this august House.”
Hon’ble Members !
This is an occasion for recalling the good things done and pat on our backs. But all is not well. There is a lot to be desired with wide spread public concerns over the way we have been conducting ourselves in the House. These concerns are very well known and I don’t have to go into them in great detail. The question that each one of us need to ask of us is ….Are we contributing to enhancing the standing of this august institution by our words and deeds both within the House and outside? Looking for answers helps in mending our ways.
This House of Elders is virtually co-equal with the House of the People except in matters of No-confidence Motions and Money Bills.
Our former President and a veteran member of this august Shri Pranab Mukerjee, in his article in Hindustan Times today said that since it’s inception in 1952, the Rajya Sabha not only guided the law making process but also prevented hasty legislation working on the federal principles of Indian polity. He further said and I quote; “It will be desirable on the part of the members of Rajya Sabha to remember that they have to maintain a fine balance between becoming obstructionist or redundant. The Rajya Sabha cannot mischievously veto everything and anything that the Lok Sabha passes and become obstructionist, and at the same time, it should not rubber stamp anything and everything passed by the Lok Sabha, lest it become redundant.”
I am sure the sagacious words of Shri Mukherjee will provide necessary guidance for conducting ourselves in this august House. French constitutional expert, Abbe Sieyes once quipped and I quote; “If a second chamber dissents from the first it is mischievous; if it agrees, it is superfluous.”
So, what emerges is that the Hon’ble members of this august institution should enrich the proceedings of the House with enlightened discussions and debates by bringing into play their wisdom, knowledge and expertise and by presenting different perspectives on any issue under the consideration of the house . Pranab da says and I quote; “As the members are chosen by the respective parties, it is expected that more politically astute persons will come to the Rajya Sabha. The 12 members nominated by the President of India are a further representative of this expectation. It is indeed supposed to enrich the deliberative character of the Parliament.”
Hon’ble Members !
Over the last two years since assumption of this august office, I have been regularly voicing my concerns over the functioning of our legislatures in general and of this House in particular. As you all discuss the need to improve in the functioning of this august House, I suggest some issues for your considered opinion:
- Adequacy of the number of the sittings in the context of the House meeting for about 60-70 days in a year now, keeping in view the nature and volume of legislations and time available for discussing issues of public importance;
- Adequacy of the present Rules of Business of the House and changes required, if any;
- Adequacy and effectiveness of various instruments presently available for the members to present their views on legislative proposals and raising issues of public concern;
- Adequacy and effectiveness of the present procedures currently being followed in the House;
- Norms to be followed for enabling equitable and wider participation of members in the debates;
- Ensuring that members with right background and abilities to enrich debates are sent to the House;
- Ensuring self-discipline on the part of the members to ensure compliance with the Rules of the Business for orderly functioning of the House;
- Requirement of infrastructure support to the members to enable informed contribution to the debates in the House ;
- Ensuring adequate presence of members in the House all through the proceedings and in the meetings of the Department Related Standing Committees and other Committees of the House; and
- Technology adoption for improving the functioning of the members and for more lively conduct of the proceedings of the House.
I am sure that all of you would sincerely review of the journey of this august institution over the last 67 years and come out with useful suggestions on reforms required so that this exalted institution can rise to the heights that are expected of it. Your suggestions will be given a serious consideration.
On this momentous occasion, I compliment and thank all the 2,282 members who have had the honour of being a part of this journey, the Presiding Officers, Panel Chairpersons, Leaders of the House and the Opposition, Ministers, leaders of various parties in the House, staff of the secretariat, the media and the people for contributing to this journey.
The last session of the House has proved to be the most productive in several years and let us continue with that spirit.
Thank you all !