Legislative Council in states: What it entails, where it’s available and how

What are the Legislative Councils, and why are they important?

India has a bicameral system i.e., two Houses of Parliament. At the state level, the equivalent of the Lok Sabha is the Vidhan Sabha or Legislative Assembly; that of the Rajya Sabha is the Vidhan Parishad or Legislative Council. A second House of legislature is considered important for two reasons: one, to act as a check on hasty actions by the popularly elected House and, two, to ensure that individuals who might not be cut out for the rough-and-tumble of direct elections too are able to contribute to the legislative process.

Opposition to the idea of Legislative Councils is centred on three broad arguments. One, they can be used to park leaders who have not been able to win an election. Two, they can be used to delay progressive legislation. Three, they would strain state finances.

Opinion in the Constituent Assembly was divided on the question of having a Legislative Council. The idea was backed on the above grounds; it was also suggested that having a second chamber would allow for more debate and sharing of work between the Houses.

So, do all states have Legislative Councils?

No. Our constitution does not force a bicameral legislature on states. It gives states the option of having a second House. As of today, seven states have Legislative Councils. These are Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

The creation of a Legislative Council in Tamil Nadu has been a contentious issue in the state’s politics for the last 25 years. Under Article 169 of the constitution, Parliament may by law create or abolish the second chamber in a state if the Legislative Assembly of that state passes a resolution to that effect by a special majority. In 1986, the Tamil Nadu Assembly, with the AIADMK in majority, passed a resolution abolishing the second chamber. The DMK and AIADMK have wrestled on the issue ever since — with the last DMK attempt to restore the Legislative Council coming in 2010, when Parliament enacted the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council Act, 2010.

However, the AIADMK returned to power before the Council could be constituted, and the Assembly passed a resolution withdrawing the 2010 decision. To give effect to the Assembly’s resolution, there is a Bill pending in Parliament to repeal the law that formed the Council.

Andhra Pradesh had a Legislative Council from 1958, abolished it in 1985, and reconstituted it in 2007.

Proposals to create Legislative Councils in Rajasthan and Assam are pending in Parliament. In 2010, MLAs in Assam unanimously passed a resolution for the creation of a Council. Rajasthan MLAs passed a similar resolution in 2012. The Standing Committee examining these Bills endorsed the creation of Upper Houses in both states. It also recommended that the central government evolve a national policy for the creation of second chambers in state legislatures.

How much money is needed to set up a Legislative Council?

Requirements would differ from state to state. Rajasthan told the Standing Committee that approximately Rs 100 crore would be required; Assam quoted a one-time expenditure of Rs 68.88 crore, and a recurring annual expenditure of Rs 19.28 crore.

How are members of the Council elected?

Membership may vary, but the Legislative Council must not have more than a third of the total membership of the Assembly of that state, and in no case fewer than 40 members. (The exception is J&K, where the Legislative Council has 36 members vide Section 50 of the constitution of the state.)

About 1/3rd of members are elected by members of the Assembly, another 1/3rd by electorates consisting of members of municipalities, district boards and other local authorities in the state, 1/12th by an electorate consisting of teachers, and 1/12th by registered graduates. The remaining members are nominated by the Governor from among those who have distinguished themselves in literature, science, art, the cooperative movement, and social service. Legislative Councils are permanent Houses, and like Rajya Sabha, one-third of their members retire every two years.

Were any prominent national leaders earlier members of Legislative Councils?

As per Lok Sabha data, 21 MPs were MLCs earlier. The list includes Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Sadananda Gowda, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ashok Chavan and Jagdambika Pal.

Do Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Parishads have similar powers?

Not really. The constitution gives Councils limited legislative powers. Unlike Rajya Sabha which has substantial powers to shape non-financial legislation, Legislative Councils lack the constitutional mandate to do so. Legislative Assemblies have the power to override suggestions/amendments made to a legislation by the Council.

Also, while Rajya Sabha MPs can vote in the election of the President and Vice-President, members of Legislative Councils can’t. MLCs also can’t vote in the elections of Rajya Sabha members.