Does the role of the Rajya Sabha in the legislative process require reform?

This is a superbly argued post by Suyash Rai of NIPFP. I hardly know anything about the subject so no comments on the author’s suggestions on reforming the Rajya Sabha. What is interesting is the way Suyash writes about various aspects of Rajya Sabha working and its role in Indian polity.

There is a lot of criticism on Rajya Sabha’s role in thwarting progress. Author says the purpose of Rajya Sabha was to slower things, so it is just doing its role:

Therefore, a democratic Republic has to be more than just democratic. Consider the risks emerging from majoritarian passions. In a democracy, passions of the majority can become so powerful that only rare statesmanship by an elected Government can stand up against them. Some of those passions may be harmful. In the absence of a Constitutional alibi, Governments will feel pressured to respond to majority’s demands. Constitution can help the Government protect itself from its own constituents. It can create statesmanship even among those lacking the spirit of statesmanship. So, we must see that all slowness is not bad, because all change is not progress, all progress is not good, and everything that is popular is not in the long-term public interest.

What seems good today may appear less appealing in a few days, as knowledge and understanding are limited. However, there is a temporal mismatch between political power and its consequences. Legislation is approved by people who are in power for short periods of time, but it affects us in the long run. Consider just three of the legislations enacted in the year 2013: Companies Act; National Food Security Act; Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act. A certain buyer’s remorse has started creeping in about the drafting of some of these. Many of those who voted for these legislations are no longer members of the Parliament. And yet, what they did will affect us for decades.

Infusing stability in the legislative process is a way of saying: we don’t know what is good, so we better go slow. So, decisions must be taken only after following due process, even if this sometimes leads to the popular will not getting implemented. In a representative democracy (as opposed to a referendum democracy), legislation should not be just a simple expression of the popular will, but should result from an intermediated and deliberative process encoded in the Constitution. Rapid action was required when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in September 2008, but years of deliberation is required when designing the financial regulatory architecture as was done through the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission. These deeper changes in the working of government should be thought through, and debated adequately. It should be harder to enact the Indian Financial Code when compared with enacting a Finance Bill.

An empowered upper house expands room for politics in the inter-election period. It can prevent Government from becoming arrogant and arrogating to itself powers that do not rightly belong to it. All political acts, including those that are oppositional, aim for some notion of the “good”, even though partisan instincts don’t let us see that. The “common good” is discovered through (a certain kind of) politics. Processes and politics slow things down. “Slow” has the opportunity to be “deliberate”, and “deliberate” can be “reasonable”. Fast is rarely reasonable, even with the best intentions.

We may interpret the design of the Constitution as envisioning three components of stability: the Rajya Sabha, the judiciary and the civil service. Rajya Sabha can slow down and alter legislations. The judiciary serves as a custodian of the Constitution, and can even nullify a legislation if it is found inconsistent with the Constitution. The civil service can bring continuity and stability into the governance system, and since it is protected, it can also play a moderating role vis-a-vis the governments. The idea is not to find absolute good in stability or agility, but to see that a balance between them is necessary for the good of the Republic. Stability can degenerate into obstructionism, which can lead to dysfunction. We must guard against excesses of stability, just as we must be wary of imprudent agility.

Read the whole thing for more insights.

My sense of all these things is so poor. We were just taught these things very briefly in a subject called Civics which was somehow fitted between History and Geography. The teachers hardly paid any attention to Civics as it carried very little weight in the exams. So we just barely brushed over a very important subject. Not sure how things are..


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