The Upper House of the Union Parliament is popularly known as the Rajya Sabha. It consists of not more than 250 members of which 12 members are nominated by the President of India, having special knowledge or practical experience in literature, Science, art and social service. Rest of the 138 members are indirectly elected by the elected members of the state legislatures in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote. The representatives of the Union Territories are indirectly elected by members of an electoral college for the territory according to same system.
The Rajya Sabha is supposed to reflect federal character since it represents the Units of the federation. However there is a difference between the second chamber in India and the second chamber of U.S.A. Under American constitution the states enjoy equality of status irrespective of their size and population. They elect two representatives each to the Senate. In case of India the members are elected to Rajya Sabha on the basic of the population of each state. Therefore the number of members vary from state to state.
The Peoples’ Representation Act has laid down definite qualifications to become a member of Rajya Sabha. A person in order to be elected to the Rajya Sabha must (a) be a citizen of India, (b) be 30 years of age on more, (c) not be holding any office of profit under the central or state Government or local body and (d) posses all other qualification prescribed by the act of parliament from time to time.
The Rajya Sabha is a permanent House not subject to dissolution like Lok Sabha. Its members and elected for a period of six years. One-third of them retire every two years. A members can resign his seat before his tenure expires. The chairman of the “House can declare a member disqualified if he fails to attend the sessions of the House for more than sixty days without taking his prior permission.
Powers of Rajya Sabha
So far as powers of Rajya Sabha is concerned it enjoys co-equal power with the Lok Sabha in respect of all bills other than money bill. Ordinarily bills can be initiated in either House of Parliament but it must be approved by both the chambers before it is submitted to the President of India for his consent. If however there is a difference between the two chamber over a particular bill, the fate of the bill is decided by a majority of votes in the joint session of both the chambers summoned by the President of India and presided over by the Speaker of Lok Sabha.
In case of Money Bills Rajya Sabha has no powers Money Bills can only be introduced in the Lok Sabha. When it comes to the Rajya Sabha after being passed by the Lok Sabha, the former can keep it maximum for a period of 14 days only after which it is deemed to be passed. It is the exclusive right of the Lok Sabha to vote on demands for grants. Limited powers of Rajya Sabha in respect of financial matters puts the Lok Sabha on a higher footing. The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible only to the House of People. The Rajya Sabha has no substantial control over the Council of Ministers. It cannot bring about the downfall of a ministry by negative voting but on the other hand if a vote of no-confidence is passed against the ministry in the Lok Sabha it is bound to resign. However the Rajya Sabha can exercise some control over the Council of Ministers. It can ask questions to ministers, raise debates and discussions on important matters, highlight the lapses of the government. In case of other matters it enjoys almost equal powers with the Lok Sabha.
Exclusive Functions of Rajya Sabha
Under the Constitution the Rajya Sabha is granted some powers exclusively. The Lok Sabha has nothing to do with that. The Rajya Sabha, under Article 249, may by a special majority of two-thirds votes adopt a resolution asking the Parliament to make laws on subjects of the State list, in the national interest. This resolution gets due attention from the Parliament. The resolution remains valid for one year only which however can be extended further in terms of another one year. Secondly, Rajya Sabha can take steps to create All India Services by adopting resolutions supported by special majority in the national interest. Thirdly, Rajya Sabha has the exclusive right to initiate a resolution for the removal of the Vice-President. This becomes the exclusive right of the Rajya Sabha because the Vice-President happens to be its Chairman and draws his salary as such.
It is very often criticized that Rajya Sabha has no special functions to justify its retention. The unnecessary duplication of work delays the process of legislation. Further the distribution of seats on the basis of population is also criticised as giving over-riding weightage to the most populous state and affecting the prospects of federating units as equals. Critics also point out that the indirect election allows unsuccessful and retired politicians to enter the Council of State through back-door. Many others have also said that maintaining Rajya Sabha has become a costly luxury.
In spite of these criticisms its protagonists justify its continuance. Late Prime Minister Pt. Nehru once remarked that both the Houses must cooperate as neither of these two houses by itself constitutes the Parliament. The Second chamber may not have the power to reject the bills passed by the Lower House but certainly it can revise and examine the bills with a view to finding out the lapses in it. It can also initiate bills on its part and reduce the burden on the popular chamber. Sir Henry Maine believes that, “almost any Second Chamber is better than none”.
A careful study of the function of Rajya Sabha suggests that since 1950 Rajya Sabha has played an important role in the field of law making and deliberations. It has not tended to compete with Lok Sabha for powers none created any hindrance on its way. It has not made its floor a battle ground between the Centre and State. On the whole it has lived almost up to the expectations of the makers of the Constitution with slight deviation here and there.