Union Parliament

The legislative branch of the Union government is called the Parliament that consists of the President and two Houses known as the House of the People (Lok Sabha) and the Council of States (Rajya Sabha). Making the President a part of the Parliament is in conformity with the principles and traditions of the parliamentary form of government.

Lok Sabha

Lok Sabha or the House of the People is the lower house. It is the people’s representative body. The members of the Lok Sabha are directly elected by the people of India. The number of its members cannot exceed 550. Out of these, 530 are directly elected by the people of the States, and the remaining 20 members are elected from the Union Territories.

All the citizens who are 18 years of age and above have the right to vote and elect the members of the Lok Sabha. According to the Constitution if there is no member of the Anglo-Indian Community in the Lok Sabha, the President can nominate two persons of this community as members. When the elections are announced, each State and Union Territory is divided into various territorial constituencies based on population. These are known as Parliamentary Constituencies. One representative to Lok Sabha is elected from each of the constituencies.

The term of the Lok Sabha is five years. However, it can be dissolved even earlier by the President. During an emergency, its term can be extended for a period of one year.

Those who want to be a member of the Lok Sabha must:

  • be a citizen of India
  • be of at least of 25 years of age
  • not hold an office of profit under the central, state or local governments

He or She should possess such other qualifications as may be specified by law made by Parliament from time to time.

Rajya Sabha

Rajya Sabha (the Council of States) is the upper house of Parliament. The maximum number of members of this house cannot exceed 250. Out of these, 238 members represent the States and Union Territories and 12 are nominated by the President of India. The nominated members are distinguished persons in the field of literature, art, science and social service.

The elected representatives are elected by the State Legislative Assemblies according to the system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote. The number of members from each State depends on the population of that State.

The Rajya Sabha is not subject to dissolution. The members of the Rajya Sabha are elected for 6 years. But there is an arrangement according to which one-third of the members retire every two years and new members are elected. The retiring member can be re-elected.

To be eligible to be a member of the Rajya Sabha, a person must

  • be a citizen of India
  • be at least 30 years of age

Other qualifications are the same as those for the members of the Lok Sabha. The sessions of the Parliament are summoned by the President. There should not be a gap of more than six months between the two sessions. The President has the right to prorogue the sessions. Lok Sabha can be dissolved by the President but not the Rajya Sabha, as it is a permanent house of the Parliament.

Presiding Officers

Lok Sabha is presided over by the Speaker and in his or her absence by the Deputy Speaker. Members of the Lok Sabha elect the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker from among themselves. He or She maintains order and discipline in the lower house as well as supervises its proceedings. He or She decides who will speak and for how long.

He or She normally does not cast vote but can vote in case of a tie. The Speaker decides whether a bill is an ordinary or a money bill and his or her decision is final. Besides, he or she is the custodian of the rights and privileges of the members. In case of a joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, presides over such meetings.

Rajya Sabha is presided over by the Vice President of India who is its ex-officio Chairman. The Chairman (Vice-President) is not a member of the Rajya Sabha. He or She is elected by an electoral college consisting of the members of both the Houses of Parliament. During his or her absence, the House is presided over by the Deputy Chairman.

Like the Speaker of Lok Sabha, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha also does not normally vote but in case of a tie, he or she may exercise the casting of vote.

Functions of Parliament

The Parliament is the supreme legislative body.

1. Legislative Functions

Parliament is a law making body. It legislates on the subjects mentioned in the Union List and the Concurrent List by the Constitution. If there is a clash between the Union government and the State government regarding any concurrent subject, the central law will prevail. Besides, if there is any subject not mentioned in any list, known as residuary subjects, it comes under the jurisdiction of the Parliament.

An ordinary bill can be introduced in any of the two houses. If a bill is passed by the Lok Sabha, it is sent to Rajya Sabha which may pass the same or may suggest amendments in the bill. If the disagreement between the two Houses continues, it has to be resolved in a joint sitting of the two Houses. In the joint sitting, Lok Sabha has an upper hand with 550 members over the Rajya Sabha which has only a maximum of 250 members. Till date there have been only three ‘joint sittings’ of both the Houses.

Once the bill is passed by both the Houses, it is sent to the President for his or her assent and with the assent it becomes a law or an act.

2. Executive Functions

In a parliamentary system, there is a close relationship between the legislature and the executive. The real executive i.e. the Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha which can dislodge a ministry by passing a no confidence motion against it. In 1999, Atal Bihari Vjpayee’s government lost the confidence motion in the Lok Sabha and it resigned.

However, both the Houses of Parliament maintain their control over the Council of Ministers through several other ways such as:

  • By asking questions and supplementary questions: The first hour of every working day of Parliament relates to Question Hour in which the Ministers have to answer the questions raised by the members.
  • By discussing and passing motions: Calling Attention Motion, Adjournment Motion or Censure Motion can be moved and policies of the government can be debated and criticized.
  • By expressing lack of confidence: The Lok Sabha can express its lack of confidence in the executive by disapproving the budget or money bill or even an ordinary bill.

3. Financial Functions

The Parliament of India has been entrusted with the performance of important financial functions. It is the custodian of the public money. It controls the entire purse of the Union government. It sanctions, from time to time, money to the government to enable it to run the administration effectively and successfully. The Parliament may pass, reduce or reject the demands for grants presented to it by the government. No taxes can be collected and no expenditure can be made without the approval of the Parliament.

However, there are certain limitations on the Rajya Sabha. These are:

  • A money bill cannot be introduced in the Rajya Sabha. It has no power either to reject or amend a money bill. It can only make recommendations on the money bill. If the Rajya Sabha along with its recommendations (if any) does not return it to Lok Sabha within 14 days, the bill is deemed to have been passed by both the Houses.
  • The Annual Budget (Annual Financial Statement) is presented in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha may only discuss it but can not stop it from becoming law.

4. Judicial Functions

The Parliament is empowered to prescribe the number of Judges of the Supreme Court by law. It is also authorised to establish a common High Court for two or more States as well as to constitute a High Court even for a Union Territory. A Chief Justice or Judge of the Supreme Court or of any High Court can be removed by the President only after an impeachment process by both the Houses of Parliament.

5. Miscellaneous Functions

The Parliament has the power to remove the President and the Vice President by a special majority of votes. This process is called as Impeachment. It has the power to amend the Constitution. Certain parts of the Constitution can be amended by a simple majority and certain others require two-thirds majority. Some other parts of the Constitution can be amended with special majority of the Parliament and the approval of the Legislatures of half of the States.

Comparative Position of Both Houses of Parliament

In a parliamentary system the lower house always plays a more important role. Accordingly, in our country also, the Lok Sabha is more powerful and effective.

  • Lok Sabha is directly elected and the true representative of the people of India. Rajya Sabha on the other hand is indirectly elected. Moreover, Rajya Sabha is a permanent body, whereas the Lok Sabha is elected for a definite period of 5 years. Its tenure can be increased and it can be dissolved even earlier than the expiry of the term.
  • In case of an ordinary bill, both the Houses have equal powers. But if the differences between both houses continue and a joint session is convened, the Lok Sabha gets an upper hand, as its membership is more than double of that of the Rajya Sabha.
  • In respect of having control over the Council of Ministers, the Lok Sabha is more effective. Rajya Sabha can have some control by debating on the policies and programmes and criticizing the government. But only the Lok Sabha has the power to pass a no-confidence motion which if done, the Council of Minister resigns.
  • With regard to the constitutional amendments, election of the President and the Vice-President and impeachment or removal of President, Vice President, Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have almost similar powers.
  • Whereas in financial matters, the Lok Sabha has an upper hand, it is only Rajya Sabha that may create a new All India Service and declare a subject in the State List to be of national importance.