The Union Legislature of India comprises the President and the two Houses of Parliament i.e., the Lok Sabha (Lower House) and the Rajya Sabha (Upper House). The Lok Sabha is also referred to as the House of the People and the Rajya Sabha is called the Council of States. The Parliament is the body of people’s representatives, who has supreme power of governance in a parliamentary form of democratic country.
Federal Set-up in India
In a federal system of Government, there is an association of states, where all the administrative powers are divided between the Central and the State Governments by the Constitution. India has opted for a federal system of Government, both Central and the State draw their authority from the same Constitution, though with a strong unitary bias.
Some important points about federal set-up are as follows:
- India is a large country and it is not possible in the Indian federal system for the States to break away as a separate unit.
- India is a country of diversity. A federal set-up is of utmost importance, if India is to be saved from separatist forces.
- There is a division of legislative and administrative powers between the Union and the State Governments and none of them can violate the limitations imposed by the Constitution.
- The States have been given the right to participate in the functioning of the government.
- The Supreme Court stands at the top of the Judiciary to safeguard the distribution of powers and to prevent any action against the provisions of the Constitution.
- The Constitution of India has made provisions for the distribution of revenues between the Centre and the States.
Unitary features of the Constitution include:
- A Strong Centre
- A Single Constitution for Union and States
- Flexibility of the Constitution
- Single Citizenship
- Inequality of Representation in the Rajya Sabha
- Integrated Judiciary
- States are Indestructible
- Parliament’s Authority over State List
- Emergency Provisions
- All-India Services
- Integrated Audit Machinery
- Appointment of Governor
- Integrated Election Machinery
- Veto over State Bills
- The members of the Lok Sabha are directly elected by the people of India. Direct elections are based on Universal Adult Franchise accepted by the Constitution.
- All adult citizens of India have the right to vote. Earlier, this right was granted at the age of 21. Now, the age limit is 18 (By 61st Amendment Act, 1989).
- The Constitution provides a fixed term of 5 years for the Lok Sabha. However, it can be dissolved earlier by the President or can be extended for one year at a time during the proclamation of an emergency by the Parliament. This extension cannot continue beyond a period of six months after the emergency has ceased to operate.
- Originally, the Constitution of India fixed the members of Lok Sabha at 552. But by observing the growth of population of our country, now the total members are 545.
- Out of the total strength of 552 members of the Lok Sabha, 530 members are representatives of States, 20 members are representatives of the Union Territories and 2 members are nominated by the President from the Anglo-Indian Community.
- Lok Sabha seats are allotted to individual States and Union Territories. The Constitution reserves seats for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. This reservation was originally for 10 years (i.e., up to 1960), but now it has been extended to 2020.
- The Constitution mentions the qualifications for the membership of the Parliament.
The conditions for the citizens are that, he/she
- should be an Indian citizen.
- should be at least 25 years of age.
- should not hold any office of profit under the government.
- should not be of unsound mind.
- should have his/her name in the electoral rolls in some part of the country.
- should not be an insolvent or a proclaimed criminal.
- A person shall be disqualified if, at any point of time, he/she does not fulfill any of the qualifications for being a member of the Parliament. Nobody can be a member of both the Houses of Parliament at the same time.
- The presiding officer of the Lok Sabha is the Speaker. He/She has wide powers to maintain discipline in the House. With respect to the discharge of his powers and functions, he is not answerable to anyone except to the House.
Speaker of the Lok Sabha
The Speaker of the Lok Sabha is elected from amongst its members, soon after the newly elected House meets for the first time.
Roles of the Speaker
The main roles of the Speaker are as follows:
- He/She presides over the meetings of the House.
- He/She interprets the rules of procedure of the House.
- He/She signs all the Bills passed by the House before they are sent to the Rajya Sabha or to the President for approval.
- He/She decides whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not.
- He/She decides the questions of disqualification of a member of the Lok Sabha.
Functions of the Speaker
The main functions of the Speaker are as follows:
- He/She receives all petitions and documents in the House.
- He/She communicates the decisions of the House to the concerned authorities.
- He/She regulates the admission of visitors and press correspondents to the galleries of the House.
- He/She is responsible for maintaining order in the House.
- He/She decides whether there is a case for a matter relating to a breach of privileges or contempt of the House.
- The Speaker is to be the ex-officio chairman of some of the Committees of the House.
- He/She also appoints the Chairman, of all the Committees.
- He/She issues directions to the chairman all matters relating to their working and the procedure to be followed.
- He/She presides over the joint sessions of the Parliament.
- He/She also nominates personnel for Parliamentary delegations to other countries.
- The Rajya Sabha comprises of both elected as well as nominated members. Out of a total strength of 250 members, 12 members are nominated by the President from the persons having special knowledge in the field of literature, science, art and social service. The remaining 238 members are to be the representatives of the States.
- Qualification and disqualification for membership of the Rajya Sabha are same as those for membership of the Lok Sabha except for the minimum age, which is 30 years in the case of Rajya Sabha and 25 years in the case of the Lok Sabha.
- At present, the Rajya Sabha has 245 members. Of these, 229 members represent the States, 4 members represent the Union Territories and 12 members are nominated by the President.
- The members (Elected) of the Rajya Sabha are elected indirectly by the members of the State Legislative Assembly with the system of proportional representation by means of a ‘Single Transferable Vote’.
- The Rajya Sabha is a permanent House. Each member is elected for a period of 6 years and 1/3rd of the total members retires every 2 years. The Vice-President is the ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
- Like the Speaker, the Chairman also cannot vote in the first instance in the Rajya Sabha. He too can cast a vote in the case of an equality of votes.
Relationship between the Two Houses
Both the Houses enjoy equal status over matters related to the election of the President and Vice-President, however, Lok Sabha due to its greater strength has a greater say. In the impeachment process, both the Houses have absolute equal powers.
Powers of the Parliament
Houses of the Parliament enjoy equal power and status in all the spheres except in financial matters and in terms of the responsibility of the Council of Ministers, which are in the domain of the Lok Sabha. The powers and functions of the Parliament are multidisciplinary i.e., Legislative, Financial, Executive, Electoral, Judicial and Constitutional.
- Both the Houses have equal legislative powers in matters pertaining to the Union List, Concurrent List, Residuary List as well as the ordinance related powers.
- The Parliament has a control over the Council of Ministers using various manners.
- Some of them being Question Hour, Vote of No-confidence, Adjournment Motion, Censure Motion, etc.
- There are certain matters/subjects, in which Rajya Sabha enjoys exclusive rights, e.g., Under-Article 249, the Rajya Sabha, by a resolution adopted by 2/3rd majority, empower the Parliament to make laws, with respect to a matter in the State List. The Parliament acquires the power to legislate with respect to matters in the State List, while a proclamation of national emergency is in operation. When Rajya Sabha passes a resolution to implement international agreements. When the Lok Sabha is dissolved, the Rajya Sabha becomes the sole de jure Parliament.
- In can authorise the Parliament to create new All-India Services common to both the Centre and States (Articles 312)
There are certain provisions which are under the exclusive domain of the Lok Sabha. e.g., No-confidence Motion and Money Bill can only be introduced in the Lok Sabha. In case of a deadlock over a Bill other than the Money Bill, the will of Lok Sabha prevails in the joint sitting, because of greater number (i.e., 543 members).
The Constitution recognises the superiority of Lok Sabha over the Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha represents the people directly. On legislative matters pertaining to the Ordinary Bills, it can originate in either House and in case of deadlock, joint sitting is referred wherein the opinion of the Lok Sabha prevails.
In case of Money Bills, Rajya Sabha cannot reject or amend it by the virtue of its own powers. It must return the Bill within a stipulated period of 14 days. It depends upon the Lok Sabha, to accept or reject on the recommendations of the Rajya Sabha.
The Council of Ministers are collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha. The Ministers remain in the office as long as they enjoy the confidence of majority of members in the Lok Sabha. The devices, through which the Parliament exercises control over the Executive are as follows:
- Interpellation : A valuable device against the slackness of the government, comprising of the Question Hour, discussion, etc., through which the government is answerable about its policies and performance.
- Adjournment Motion: It aimed at censuring the acts of omission and commission of the Ministers.
- Monetary Controls: A cut motion may be moved during the budget session. It is ensured that the money is spent in accordance with the decision of the Parliament. It studies the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
- The Parliament can remove the judges of both the High Court and the Supreme Court. It can also remove the Election Commissioner (EC), Comptroller and the Auditor-General of India (CAG), etc.
- The Parliament also has the right to remove the President from office through the procedure of impeachment.
- It can also punish a person for obstructing the work of the Parliament or for showing any sort of disrespect towards the House.
The Parliament along with the State Legislatures elects the President. It elects India’s Vice-President as well.
Power to Amend the Constitution
The procedure for the amendment of the Constitution is laid down in Article 368. A Bill can be introduced in either House of the Parliament to amend the Constitution. If passed by an actual 2/3rd majority of both the Houses, the President must give his assent to the bill, the Constitution stands amended.
- Generally, the Parliament meets thrice a year. The maximum gap between two sessions of Parliament cannot be more than 6 months. The President may call the meeting more often and when required. Normally, there are three Sessions in a year i.e., The Budget Session, Monsoon Session and Winter Session.
- The Quorum means the minimum number of members required to be present in order to enable the business of the House. It is fixed at 1/10th of the total membership of each House.
- The first hour or every working day of the House is the Question Hour, wherein a member of the House may ask questions from the Government on matters of public interest. There are three types of questions i.e., Starred, Unstarred and Short Notice questions.
- During Zero Hour (From 12 o’clock to lunch), the members raise all types of questions, without any permission or prior notice. A formal proposal made by a member stating that, the house should take up some particular matter which is of public importance is called Motion.
- An Adjournment Motion is laid to discuss a matter of urgent public importance. Such a Motion leads to the interruption of the normal business of the House.
- A No-confidence Motion is a proposal expressing lack of confidence in the ministry. The Motion is moved by the opposition and admitted when a minimum of 50 members support it. If passed, the Government has to resign.
The Constitutional Act (52nd Amendment ) 1985 is popularly known as the Anti-Defection Law. It added a new schedule i.e., 10th schedule to the Constitution, setting out certain provisions regarding vacation of seats and disqualification from membership of Parliament and State Legislature on grounds of defection.
The conditions for anti-defection law are as follows:
- If a member voluntarily relinquishes his membership from the party on whose ticket he got elected.
- An independent member of a Parliament or State Legislature will be disqualified if he joins another party after his election.
- There would be no disqualification, where a member claims that he belongs to a group representing a faction arising from a split and the group consists of not less than 1/3rd of the members of the Legislative party.