Indian Legislature: Parliament

In a democracy, the idea of consent, i.e. the desire, approval and participation of people is important. It is the decision of people that creates a democratic government and decides about its functioning. One way of doing so is through elections. People elect their representatives to the Parliament. Then, one group from among these elected representatives forms the government.

In all democracies, an assembly of elected representatives exercises supreme political authority on behalf of the people. In India such a national assembly of elected representatives is called Parliament. At the state level this is called Legislature or Legislative Assembly.

The Parliament, which is made up of all representatives together, controls and guides the government. In this sense people, through their chosen representatives, form the government and also control it.

Two Houses of Parliament

Since the Parliament plays a central role in modern democracies, most large countries divide the role and powers of the Parliament in two parts. They are called Chambers or Houses. One House is usually directly elected by the people and exercises the real power on behalf of the people. The second House is usually elected indirectly and performs some special functions.

India is the largest democracy in the world. The Indian legislature is bicameral. The Indian Parliament is made up of two houses:

  1. The Lower House: Lok Sabha (House of the People)
  2. The Upper House: Rajya Sabha (Council of States)

The President of India is a part of the Parliament, although not a member of either House. The parliament comprises the President of India and the two houses. The President has the power to summon and prorogue either House of Parliament or to dissolve Lok Sabha. All laws made in the Houses come into force only after they receive the assent of the President.

The two Houses meet in separate chambers in the Sansad Bhavan in New Delhi. Those elected or nominated to either house of Parliament are referred to as Members of Parliament or MPs. The MPs of Lok Sabha are directly elected by the Indian public while the MPs of Rajya Sabha are elected by the members of the State Legislative Assemblies.

Role of Parliament

Once elections to the Parliament have taken place, the Parliament needs to perform the following functions:

1. To Select the National Government

Parliament of India consists of the President, the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. After the Lok Sabha elections, a list is prepared showing how many MPs belong to each political party. For a political party to form the government, they must have a majority of elected MPs. Since there are 543 elected (plus 2 Anglo-Indian nominated) members in Lok Sabha, to have a majority a party should have at least half the number i.e. 272 members or more.

The Opposition in Parliament is formed by all the political parties that oppose the majority party or coalition formed. The largest amongst these parties is called the Opposition party.

Often times in the recent past it has been difficult for a single political party to get the majority that is required to form the government. They then join together with different political parties who are interested in similar concerns to form a coalition government.

2. To Control, Guide and Inform the Government

The Parliament, while in session, begins with a question hour. The question hour is an important mechanism through which MPs can elicit information about the working of the
government. This is a very important way through which the Parliament controls the executive.

By asking questions the government is alerted to its shortcomings, and also comes to know the opinion of the people through their representatives in the Parliament, i.e. the MPs. Asking questions of the government is a crucial task for every MP.

The Opposition parties play a critical role in the healthy functioning of a democracy. They highlight drawbacks in various policies and programmes of the government and mobilise popular support for their own policies.

3. Law-Making

Law-making is a significant function of Parliament. 

Lok Sabha

The Lok Sabha is elected once every five years. The country is divided into numerous constituencies. Each of these constituencies elects one person to the Parliament. The candidates who contest elections usually belong to different political parties.

It has a mixed composition with a total sanctioned strength of 550 elected members (530 from States and 20 at the most from UTs). A maximum of 2 members from the Anglo-Indian community may be nominated to the Loksabha by the President if he feels that they are not sufficiently represented.

Members of the Lok sabha are elected by an electoral college of all adult citizens (of not less 18 years). The normal duration of a Lok Sabha is 5 years, unless dissolved earlier by the President. The duration can be increased by a maximum of 1 year at a time only during an Emergency. The term was increased to 6 years by 42nd Amendment but again reduced to 5 years by 44th Amendment.

Speaker of Lok Sabha

The Speaker is the person who presides over the Lok sabha sittings. Soon after its formation, the new Lok sabha chooses its Speaker and the Deputy Speaker. Since the newly constituted Lok sabha is yet to elect a Speaker who can administer the oath of office and secrecy to all the new MPs, the House normally elects a Pro Tem (sort of temporary) Speaker to conduct the business during that time. The Speaker conducts the business of the House as per the Rules of Business. The Speaker may cease to be so

  • if he loses the Lok sabha membership for some reason
  • if he submits his resignation in writing to the Deputy Speaker and vice-versa.
  • If he is removed from the post by a Lok sabha resolution supported by a majority all the members of the House.

The Speaker exercises the casting vote in case of a tie over a bill in the House. Besides, the Lok sabha Speaker presides over a Joint Sitting of both the Houses. The Speaker also ratifies a bill as Money Bill and his decision in this matter is final. During a vacancy in the office of the Loksabha Speaker, the Deputy Speaker performs his duties. After the first General Elections in 1951, GV Mavlankar became the first Speaker of the Loksabha.

Rajya Sabha

It is a permanent House (cannot be dissolved) with a member having a term of 6 years. One-thirds of its members retire after every two years. Consequently, there is an election of one-thirds of the Rajya sabha at the beginning of every 3rd year.

The Rajya Sabha is composed of not more than 250 members, of whom 12 members are nominated by the President and remaining 238 members are representatives of the States and the Union Territories elected by the method of indirect election.

It is the duty of the President to summon both Houses of Parliament at such intervals that not more than 6 months elapse between two successive sessions.

The Vice-President of India is the ex-office Chairman of the Rajya sabha. During his absence, the Deputy Chairman discharges his duties in the House. The Deputy chairman is elected by the Rajya Sabha itself, among its members.

Legislative Procedures

Bills (other than Money Bills) may be introduced in either House by a Minister or a private member. A private member has to seek prior permission of the House before introducing the Bill, which is normally given. After introduction in the House, the Bill is discussed by the House and is thereafter put to vote. In case of bills other than Money Bills, a simple majority is required to pass them (at least 50% of those present and voting in the House must approve it.)

After being passed in this manner in one House, Bill goes to the other House. Upon receipt in the other House, it undergoes all the stages again as it has in the earlier House. The other House may subsequently

  • reject the Bill altogether
  • pass the Bill with amendments. If on return to the originating House, the amendments are accepted by it, the Bill goes to the President for his assent. However, if the originating House does not agree to the amendments proposed by the other House, there is a deadlock and the provision of a Joint Sitting may be applied in such cases.
  • may take no action on it. If more than 6 months elapse in this manner, a Joint Sitting may be summoned by the President.

Lok Sabha vs. Rajya Sabha

Though in most spheres, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are equal in the matter of their rights, there are certain special privileges enjoyed by the each separately.

1. Any ordinary law needs to be passed by both the Houses. But if there is a difference between the two Houses, the final decision is taken in a joint session in which members of both the Houses sit together. Because of the larger number of members, the view of the Lok Sabha is likely to prevail in such a meeting.

2. Lok Sabha exercises more powers in money matters. Once the Lok Sabha passes the budget of the government or any other money related law, the Rajya Sabha cannot reject it. The Rajya Sabha can only delay it by 14 days or suggest changes in it. The Lok Sabha may or may not accept these changes.

3. The Lok Sabha controls the Council of Ministers. Only a person who enjoys the support of the majority of the members in the Lok Sabha is appointed the Prime Minister. If the majority of the Lok Sabha members say they have ‘no confidence’ in the Council of Ministers, all ministers including the Prime Minister, have to quit. The Rajya Sabha does not have this power.

4. Only the Rajya Sabha can recommend the creation of one or more All-India Services.

5. Only the Rajya sabha can pass a resolution to enable the Parliament to make a law on any thing contained in the State List.

Money Bills

A Bill is defined as a Money Bill if it contains any of the following provisions only:

  • A. imposition, abolition, reduction, alteration, remission or regulation of any tax
  • B. taking out/depositing money from/into the Consolidated Fund/ Contingency Fund of India

On the other hand, a Financial Bill is a Bill which deals with taxation plus some other provisions. The Annual Budget is known as the Annual Finance Bill because it contains many provisions apart from those related to taxes.

A Money Bill can be introduced only in the Lok sabha on the recommendations of the President. The decision of the Speaker of the Lok sabha is final in certifying whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not. The Rajya sabha cannot initiate a Money Bill nor can it reject or amend it after passage by the Lok sabha. The Rajya sabha must return a Money Bill within 14 days of receipt, after which the Lok sabha may accept any of its recommendations.

The President is bound to give his assent to a Money Bill so passed in the first instance itself and cannot withhold his assent or send it back to Parliament.

Laws For State List

The constitution empowers parliament to make laws on any matter in state list under five extra ordinary circumstances:

  1. Rajya sabha passes resolution
  2. national emergency
  3. states make a request
  4. to implement international agreements
  5. during president’s rule

Motions in Parliament

Private Member’s business

Every member who is not a Minister is called a Private Member. The Private Member’s business includes Private Member’s Bills and Private Member’s Resolutions. The period of notice for introduction of Bill is one month unless the Presiding officer allows introduction at a shorter notice.

Question Hour

Normally, the first hour of the business of a House everyday is devoted to questions and is called Question Hour (11:00 AM to 12:00 Noon).

Starred and Unstarred Questions

A starred question is one to which a member desires an oral answer in the House. Answer to such a question may be followed by five supplementary questions by other members. An unstarred question is one to which written answer is desired by the Member. No supplementary questions can be asked thereon.

Short Notice Questions

These are related to matter of urgent public importance and can be asked by members with notice shorter than the 10 days prescribed for an ordinary question. It is for the Speaker to determine whether the matter is of real urgent nature or not.

Adjournment Motions

An adjournment motion is an extra-ordinary procedure which if admitted leads to setting aside the normal business of the House for discussing a definite matter of Urgent Public importance.

Calling Attention

It is a notice by which a member with the prior permission of the Speaker, Calls the attention of a Minister of any matter of urgent public importance and the Minister may make a brief statement or ask for time to make a statement at a later hour or date. There is no calling attention Notice in the Rajya Sabha. Instead there exists a motion called ‘Motion for Papers.’

Privilege Motion

This motion is moved by a member if in his opinion any minister or any of the members commits a breach of privilege of the House by withholding any fact.

Bill vs Resolution

Bill is a legislative device once it passed from both the House and signed by the President, it becomes an Act. Resolution is not a legislative device it can be passed by any of the Houses. Example: No confidence motion is passed by Lok Sabha only.

Kinds of Majorities

Simple Majority

It means a majority of more than 50% of the members present and voting.

Absolute Majority

It refers to a majority of more than 50% of the total membership of the house. In Constitution, such kind of majority is not required in isolation.

Effective Majority

Effective Majority of house means more than 50% of the effective strength of the house.

Special Majorities

Any Majority other than simple, absolute and effective majority is called a special majority. Examples:

  • Article 249 allows Parliament to legislate in a subject in State List in the national interest. It requires 2/3rd or more of members present and voting.
  • Majority under Article 312 (Creation of one or more new All India Services): The resolution must be passed by Rajya Sabha supported by not less than 2/3rd of the members present and voting. Then only the bill can be introduced in Lok Sabha.
  • Majority under Article 368 (Constitutional Amendment Bill): The Bill can be introduced in either House of the Parliament. The Bill must be passed by Majority of the Total Strength of the house (Absolute Majority), Majority of not less than 2/3rd of the member of House present and Voting.
  • Majority as under Article 61 (Impeachment of the President): The resolution of impeachment of President must be passed by a majority of not less than 2/3rd of the Total membership of the House.