Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday emphasised the importance of the Rajya Sabha in maintaining checks and balances in a democracy, but said that a distinction needs to be made between checking and choking, balance and blocking. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on the other hand, cautioned against undermining the role of the Upper House.
Speaking during a special discussion on the “Role of Rajya Sabha in Indian Polity and Need for Reforms”, on the first day of the 250th session of the Upper House, Modi also praised the NCP and BJD for never rushing to the well of the House.
“The Rajya Sabha is about checks and balances. This is absolutely essential for our democracy. Debates have to be many and effective. But there is also a difference between checking and choking… balance and blocking,” said Modi.
His comments come in the backdrop of disruptions in the House during the last session.
Quoting former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Modi said while the Rajya Sabha is the “second House”, it is not the “secondary House”. But, he added, it should become a “supportive House for India’s development”.
Praising the NCP and BJD for maintaining discipline in the House, he said: “Today, I want to appreciate two parties — NCP and BJD. These parties have wonderfully adhered to parliamentary norms. They have never ventured into the well. Yet, they have made their points very effectively. Much can be learnt from these practices.” He said all parties, including the BJP, could learn from the NCP and BJD.
“Our Constitution inspires us to work for a welfare state. It also motivates us to work for the welfare of states. The Rajya Sabha, as the Council of States, enables us to further the spirit of cooperative federalism,” he said. He said the Rajya Sabha ensures that the Centre and states are not “rivals”.
“The soul of India’s federal structure” within the Upper House “inspires us”, said Modi. “Whenever it has been about national good, the Rajya Sabha has risen to the occasion and made a strong contribution. It was believed that the Bill on triple talaq would not pass here, but it did. Even GST became a reality after it was passed in the Rajya Sabha,” he said.
He said the Rajya Sabha gives experts, who may not be able to contest elections, a chance to contribute to politics and national development. As the Rajya Sabha is a permanent House, it is “eternal”, he said, adding that its diversity and eternal character are two important aspects of the House.
Speaking after Modi, Manmohan Singh said “a crucial differentiating factor between the two Houses, is that Article 110 of the Constitution allows the Lok Sabha precedence in matters of the Money Bill”. “In the recent past, we have seen instances of misuse of the Money Bill provision by the executive, leading to bypassing the Rajya Sabha on crucial legislation of importance, without any deliberation,” said Singh.
He said “those in the Treasury benches must ensure that such instances are avoided” as “it dilutes the stature and importance of our institutions, including the Rajya Sabha”.
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Singh said that for the Rajya Sabha to “fully fulfil its deliberative function, it is important that we scrutinise Bills more thoroughly in committees, where not only the members can apply their minds, but even experts and stakeholders’ opinions can be solicited”.
Referring Bills to parliamentary committees has a been a point of contention between the government and the Opposition.
“In the 16th Lok Sabha, only 25% of the Bills introduced were referred to committees — much lower than the 71% and 60% in the 15th and 14th Lok Sabha respectively,” said Singh. “Regardless of what the other House does, it is crucial for our House to form select committees to ensure that Bills receive the detailed scrutiny they deserve,” he said.
“As we celebrate the 250th Session of the Rajya Sabha, it is appropriate for us to reflect on whether we have lived up to the vision of the framers of the Constitution,” said Singh. “When there is criticism of the Rajya Sabha, it is fundamentally a misunderstanding of these historic roles… It is our duty to ensure that no law is passed in haste and in an atmosphere of heightened emotions,” he said.