Introduction- Nature, Composition, and Election
The Rajya Sabha, or the Upper House of the Indian parliament is also known as the council of the states, and it is also essential for upholding the dignity of the Indian bicameral legislature. It aims at giving proper representation to the states of our nation.
However, in Indian legislature, the system of representation is based on the size and population of the states and not on a simple equal representation like that found in countries like USA and Switzerland.
The maximum membership in the Rajya Sabha is 250, out of which, 238 members are elected from the various states and union territories, and the rest of the 12 members are distinguished personalities from different fields such as literature, sports, science, and arts.
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They are nominated by the President of India. The members are nominated for a total duration of six years. One-third of the total membership resigns every two years, so the nominations and elections happen on a rolling basis.
The members are elected by the members of the state legislative assemblies (through the single transferable vote system). Therefore, it can be said that the elections for Rajya Sabha are of the indirect sort.
Currently, the membership of the Rajya Sabha stands at 245, out of which 233 are elected from the states, and 12 are nominated by the President. The President too is by default a member of the parliament. The sessions of the Rajya Sabha usually happen along with that of the Lok Sabha, that is, at least twice a year.
The quorum to hold the meetings of the Rajya sabha is one-tenth of its membership. The members of the upper house enjoy certain special privileges while they serve as MPs.
The vice president of India acts as the ex-officio chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. In his absence, the deputy chairperson, who is elected by and among the members, presides over the meetings.
Special powers of the Rajya Sabha
The upper house of the Indian parliament enjoys certain exclusive power which is not enjoyed by the lower house or any other legislative or executive body.
These powers include the power to declare a subject of state list as a subject of national importance and makes it a part of the concurrent list and not just the state list(according to article 249) for one year; and the power in respect of the creation or abolition of an all India service (according to article 319).
These acts, however, need to be presented in the form of a resolution by any member of the Rajya Sabha, and has to be then supported by a two-third majority of all the members present and voting, especially on the plea of national interest.
These two powers give the Rajya Sabha a dominant significance over other legislative and executive bodies of our country.
Functions of the Rajya Sabha
The Rajya Sabha has various functions- which include legislative, financial, executive, electoral, as well as judicial powers. Other than these, there are also some special powers which have already been mentioned.
We will now discuss the various types of its functions in brief.
Legislative powers– The Rajya Sabha enjoys equal powers with the Lok Sabha in the sphere of ordinary law making.
An ordinary bill can be introduced in the Rajya Sabha and it cannot become a law until and unless it has been passed duly in the upper house as well.
The members of the Rajya Sabha also actively participate in the joint sitting in case it is summoned by the president due to any deadlock which has arisen over any ordinary bill.
Financial powers– The financial powers enjoyed by the upper house is very limited and minor. A money bill can only be introduced in the Lok Sabha and after it has been approved by the lower house, it comes to the upper house for approval.
In such a case, Rajya Sabha members only get 14 days to pass the bill. If they do not choose to do so, they can send the bill back with certain recommendations, but it is completely up to the members of the Lok Sabha if they accept those or not.
If no action is taken by the Rajya Sabha within the period of 14 days, the bill is deemed to have been duly passed by the chamber.
Executive powers– The Rajya Sabha has limited role in the exercise of executive powers, as the council of ministers is responsible only in front of the Lok Sabha.
The members of the Rajya Sabha can however check the ministers by seeking information regarding their work, criticizing their policies and decisions, asking questions, and moving motions of adjournment.
Moreover, some of the ministers are also chosen from the members of the upper chamber and therefore indirectly there is certain share of executive powers for the Rajya Sabha as well. However, this share is considerably less in proportion to that given to the Lok Sabha.
Electoral powers– The elected members of the Rajya Sabha take part in the election of the President of India.
The members of the Rajya Sabha, along with the other members of parliament, take part in the election of the vice president of India. Other than these, the members also elect a deputy chairman from among themselves.
Judicial powers– The Rajya Sabha can participate in the impeachment procedure of the President on charges of violation of the constitution. It can also pass an address for causing the removal of any Supreme Court judge.
Any charges against the vice president can be levelled in the Rajya Sabha exclusively. Moreover, in case the Lok Sabha is dissolved, the Rajya Sabha is held to be competent to give approval to emergency proclamations.
The Rajya Sabha is significant as it is the only permanent law making body of India and it can exercise its powers at all times as and when it is needed.
It is also important to understand that although in some spheres, its powers are lesser than that of the Lok Sabha; it helps to keep an efficient check over the executive and the lower house.