This article is written by Dhruv Vatsyayan. He is a student of Law School, Banaras Hindu University and currently pursuing his 1st year of B.A.LL.B.(Hons.). In this article, he discusses the Union Legislature, i.e the Parliament.
Parliament, which is a platform to do a discussion on issues having social and civic importance in any popular democracy, is a cornerstone of democratic values in any representative democracy.
Parliament may be perceived as a political institution to ensure the realization of what Mahatma Gandhi once envisaged that, Democracy essentially is the art and science of mobilizing and utilizing the entire physical, economic and immaterial & metaphysical resources for the common good of all the people.
Though the origin of the concept of Parliament traces to European nations since medieval ages, it has been an indispensable part of the Indian democratic structure since the inception of democracy in India.
The stalwarts of Indian freedom struggle, legal experts and other members of the Constituent Assembly, arrived at a conclusion of endorsing a parliamentary system of government after an extensive and in-depth study of the Constitution of other nation-states.
After the first general election in the year 1952, both the houses of parliament came into existence.
It must be noted that after the Constitution was adopted and till general elections, i.e between 1950 to 1952, the Constituent Assembly itself functioned as the provisional legislative body.
Composition of Parliament
The Parliament in India comprises the President of India, the Upper House i.e. Rajya Sabha and the Lower House i.e. Lok Sabha.
Hindi names of both the houses, i.e. Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha had been adopted by the Upper House and the Lower House respectively.
The Constitution describes the structure of parliament in Article 79. It states that the Parliament comprises of the President and the two houses i.e. the Lower House or House of People and Upper house or Council of States.
To understand the functions served by the President, we can say that the post of president is somewhat equivalent to the role and functions of the Queen or Crown in the United Kingdom.
Even though the President is a part of the legislature, he doesn’t sit in parliament.
However, a bill passed by houses can’t be made law without the assent of the President.
Now, let’s discuss the Upper house or Rajya Sabha.
The Rajya Sabha
Rajya Sabha is the Upper House of the Indian Parliament.
This house is permanent in nature as it can never be dissolved. This is because every member elected to the Rajya Sabha serves for a term of 6 years and one-third of members do retire biennially, while the other members continue their tenure. It’s like an election in different batches.
Retired members are subject to re-election.
This house consists of 250 members out of which, 238 members are elected by means of a single transferable vote. 12 members are nominated by the President on the advice of the council of ministers.
The method of election of these members is listed in Article 80(1) of the Indian Constitution.
It says that the members would be elected by the elected members of respective state assemblies in accordance with proportionate representation of every state.
This provision thus reflects the federal nature of the Council of States, where every state is represented proportionally.
However, the number of members representing each state varies from 1 to as large as 31 (for Uttar Pradesh).
Article 84 of the Indian Constitution provides for the qualification to become a member of Rajya Sabha, i.e. one must have the nationality of India, doesn’t holds any office of profit and must have completed 30 years of age. Article 102 of the Indian Constitution provides for conditions on which one can be disqualified from either of the houses. It says that one must be disqualified as a member of the house if,
- he/she holds any office of profit;
- he/she is of unsound mind;
- he/she is discharged insolvent;
- he/she is not a citizen of India and has voluntarily accepted the nationality of other nations;
- he/she is disqualified under any law made by the Parliament.
Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha
In Rajya Sabha, the Vice-President of India presides of its sessions and is ex-officio chairperson of the house.
However, to take care of its day-to-day affairs, and to preside over the sessions in the absence of the Chairperson, i.e. the Vice-President, a member of the house itself is chosen internally by the Rajya Sabha as Deputy Chairperson of the house.
Position in other Countries
It’ll be an interesting task to look into other democratic systems if something like Rajya Sabha or Upper House exists there too.
Most of the nation-states in the European Union have a council of states. And almost all of them functions as a consultative or advisory body to the president or the government.
For example, the Belgian Council of States is a Judicial and advisory body, which assists legal advisory in matters of draft bills to the executive.
While in China, the Chinese State Council happens to be the highest administrative body of the country.
In Portugal, the Portuguese State Council serves as an advisory body of the President of the state.
In the United States, there is no such body resembling the functions that Rajya Sabha serves. However, it has a bicameral legislature and is comprised of House of Representatives and the Senate. Interestingly, the number of senators for each administrative unit is fixed, i.e. 2.
Let’s discuss the utility of Rajya Sabha and the need for the second house.
The utility of the Rajya Sabha
Regarding utility and need of a second chamber in the parliament, an extensive debate took place in the constituent assembly while framing of the constitution.
Ultimately, it was agreed to adopt a bicameral system of legislature and thus the Rajya Sabha was formed as the second chamber with a different method of election and different composition altogether.
The utility of the Rajya Sabha can be understood by this hypothetical situation. Suppose, after general elections, a single political party comes to a thumping majority in the lower house.
Now, having this majority, they can pass any bills or piece of legislation even if the same is not fruitful to the people and democracy unless there is a system of check.
So, this second house serves as a safety valve and a system of check regarding all the functions of the lower house.
The Lok Sabha
The provisions of Article 331 of the Indian Constitution provides for the existence of the house of the people and shall consist of a maximum of 530 chosen members from different states, not more than 20 members to be chosen from the Union Territories. If President feels that there is a lack of representation of the Anglo-Indian Community in parliament he may nominate two members of the Anglo-Indian Community.
Some seats are also reserved for the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled tribes communities especially laid aside for them all over the country.
The representation is allocated to the states and the Union Territories according to the Representation of the people Act passed by the Parliament of India in 1951.
The Lok Sabha, unless dissolved midway, continues its tenure for 5 years from the day of its first meeting.
As the members of the Lok Sabha are elected directly, it needs to have a proper division of the country into smaller units.
And for this purpose, India is divided into small territorial constituencies.
These constituencies are sorted out in such a way so that each Indian state has an adequate share of members in the house and is proportional to its population.
To keep this division democratic, the constituencies are carved out in such a way so that the ratio of the number of representatives and the population of that particular constituency should remain the same across all the constituencies.
Tenure of Lok Sabha
The members elected by Universal Adult Suffrage serve their offices for a tenure of five years.
However, if devoid of a popular majority, the government can fall and the house can dissolve midway anytime before the completion of five years.
Qualification for Membership of Parliament
Qualifications necessary for becoming a member of parliament is provided in Article 84 of the Indian Constitution.
Following are the qualifications:
- he/she should be a citizen of India.
- In the case of Upper House,i.e. Rajya Sabha, he/she should have completed at least 30 years of age and for Lower House,i.e. Lok Sabha, he/she should have completed 25 years of age.
- he/she need to comply with other such qualifications as prescribed in any law by the Indian Parliament.
Now. let us take a look into grounds on which one can be disqualified as a Member of Parliament.
Now, Article 102 of the Indian Constitution lays the grounds on which a legislator can be disqualified as a member of the Parliament.
Those grounds are:
- If he/she holds any office of profit under the Government of India or any of the states;
- If he/she is declared of unsound mind by a Court;
- If he/she is an undischarged insolvent;
- If he/she is not a citizen of India anymore;
- If he/she is disqualified by virtue of any law passed by the parliament of India.
Office of Profit
As it is a ground for disqualification as a member of Parliament, it is essential to understand what exactly does the office of profit means.
Office of profit refers to any post or position under central or state government which fetches salaries, bonuses, perks and other benefits to the individual.
However, the quantity of profit gained is irrelevant under this disqualification.
Disqualifications under the Representation of Peoples Act
A member of parliament can also be disqualified under the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951. This act was passed by the Parliament under Article 327 of the Indian Constitution, which provides for the procedure and the conduct to be followed during the election to Parliament and state legislatures.
Following are the grounds:
- If he/she is convicted for indulging in corrupt practices during the election or any other election-related offenses.
- If he/she is convicted under certain acts of Indian Penal Code, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002, etc.
- If he/she is convicted under any law that results for at least two years of imprisonment and will remain disqualified for a further 6 years after his release.
- If he/she is convicted under any law relating to drugs or dowry prevention.
- Dismissal from the government due to disloyalty or involvement in corrupt practices.
- If he/she fails to lodge their election expenses.
Disqualification on ground of defection
The need for an anti-defection law was felt in India when in 1967, one legislator from Haryana, Gaya Lal, changed his party thrice in a single day. Also, the General Elections of 1967 saw a great number of defections was seen as around 150 MPs flitted their political parties.
However, an act tackling such problems was passed by Parliament in the year 1985.
With 52nd amendment to Indian Constitution, provisions regarding disqualification of the basis of defection were inserted in the 10th schedule of the Indian Constitution.
As per the provisions, the members can be disqualified on the following grounds:
- When members of a political party don’t abide by his/her party leadership or voluntarily resigns from the party.
- When members don’t votes or refrains from voting according to his/her party whip.
- An Independent member stands disqualified if he/she joins a political party.
- For nominated members, if he/she is not a member of any political party, he/she if want, has to join a political party within 6 months of nomination or membership stands canceled.
However, voluntarily giving up membership has quite a broader meaning. In the case of Ravi Naik vs Union of India, giving up membership doesn’t necessarily mean resigning, but it can also be inferred by the conduct of the member.
Now let’s look for which people have the authority to disqualify the members.
The chairman, in the case of Rajya Sabha and the Speaker, in the case of Lok Sabha has powers to disqualify a member on grounds of defection.
And, regarding complaints of Speaker/Chairperson involved in defecation, a member elected by the house itself will take necessary actions regarding the same.
This law also has some exceptions, specifically when political parties merge with some other political party.
Vacation of seats
Now, the question comes in our mind is, what if a member vacates his seat?
And what are the grounds of vacation of seats?
So, to deal with such situations, our Constitution provides us with Article 101 in the Fifth part of the Indian Constitution.
Thus, as envisaged under this Article, a member must vacate his/her seat if
- He/she is elected in both houses as this article clearly states that no person shall be chosen as members in both the houses.
- He/she becomes a member of the Central legislature as well as a state legislature, then he must vacate his seat in the house.
- He/she becomes subject to any of the disqualifications mentioned by Parliament
- He/she, without permission of the speaker, is absent from the house for consecutive 60 days
And, after a seat is vacated in either of legislative houses, polls are conducted to fill the vacancy.
Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha
To preside over sessions of the house, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha is elected among the sitting members of the house. He/she is generally elected in the first meeting of the Lok Sabha and serves a tenure of 5 years along with that particular Lok Sabha. And as normally practiced, the Speaker is a member of the ruling party or alliance.
Regarding the election of the Speaker, sitting MPs proposes names and the same are notified to the President of India.
Then a date for the election is notified.
Now, if only one name is proposed by the MPs, no formal voting happens but, in a case where a proposal for more than one name shows up, a division vote is organized and the Speaker is chosen accordingly.
Inter alia (among other things), one of the main functions of a Speaker is to decide upon whether a bill is a money bill or not.
His/her function also includes maintaining decorum and discipline in the house and punishing those who are not complying with his guidelines. Also, in the order of precedence, he/she is ranked 6th, parallel to the Chief Justice of India.
He/she can also be removed according to The Representation of the People Act and when a bill is wrongly certified as a money bill by the Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha serves as a Number-Two, who in the absence of the Speaker carries forward his roles and functions.
He/she also has a tenure of 5 years and can leave the post midway if he/she ceases to be a member of parliament.
Sessions of Parliament
Now coming to Sessions of the Parliament, let’s first understand what exactly a session is.
So, whenever either of the houses meets for the conduct of its business, for the period it meets, is called a session.
With not more than a 6-months gap, the president can summon either of the houses for conducting a session.
Thus, the Parliament must necessarily meet at least two times a year.
As per convention, three sessions are conducted by the Indian Parliament in a year:
- Budget Session between February and May.
- Monsoon Session between July and September.
- Winter Session between November and December.
Prorogation of the house essentially means termination of a session of the house.
The notice of prorogation is issued by the Speaker or the Chairperson of the House. After a session is ended, the presiding officer adjourns the house sine die, i.e with no appointed date for resuming the house and then after a few days, the notice is issued.
However, houses of the Parliament can also be adjourned or prorogued when in session.
This is provided under Article 85(2) of the Indian Constitution.
The power to dissolve the Lok Sabha is placed with the President of India in accordance with Article 85 of the Indian Constitution.
In two cases, dissolution of the Lok Sabha is possible:
- When the term of the Lok Sabha, i.e 5 years complete and is dissolved by the leader of the ruling party.
- When the government loses the majority and floor test is about to happen, in that case, the president can dissolve the house.
And, it is completely different from adjournment or prorogation as Dissolution means the end of the term of that particular Lok Sabha.
Effect of Dissolution on the business pending in the House
It states that whenever the Lok Sabha is dissolved, be it after completing its whole term or midway, all the business, which includes bills, notices, petitions, motions, etc, do lapses.
When a new Lok Sabha is elected and it begins with its sittings, all the motions, bills and notices need re-introduction in the house.
Functions of the Parliament
From the gist of what our constitution provides, we may infer that Parliament is an institution which exerts an amalgamation of executive and legislative authority.
There are certain functions that the Parliament of India serves.
Following are the functions:
The basic function which the Parliament serves is of legislating.
Legislating essentially means making laws and provisions for the smooth functioning of the government and the nation at large.
This function is embedded in Article 107-108 of the Indian Constitution.
Raison d’etre of this function is the realization of the constitutional objective of India as a welfare state.
Providing the cabinet
Another basic function of the parliament is providing the cabinet, which stands responsible for the Parliament itself and provides the proper aide to the President.
However, the cabinet is accountable only towards the Lok Sabha, it may consist of members from Rajya Sabha too.
Control of the cabinet
It is a function of the parliament to see if the cabinet is able to maintain its trust through the majority of the ruling party, i.e. if the ruling party loses trust or majority, the cabinet must have to resign.
The same is expressed in Article 75(3) of the Indian Constitution.
Criticism and evaluation of the cabinet
Criticizing and evaluating the cabinet and the ministers is the foremost function of the parliament.
As the cabinet is responsible for the Parliament, evaluation of the actions and decisions of the cabinet must be done by other members. This serves as a safety valve and provides for a system of checks.
It bars the government to act in a dictatorial way while avoiding the public interest. This function can be discharged by both the houses of the parliament.
The legislature has exclusive authority to allocate expenditures and finances for public services and other affairs. It also provides with the measures to be taken for raising revenue and receipts to be appropriated according to needs.
These authorities are wielded in such a way that keeps the democracy basic essence of our constitution alive.
Any bill, which is proposed in the Parliament is an ordinary bill except those which get the certificate of money bill by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
It can be proposed/introduced in either of the houses, i.e. Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha.
It can be introduced by a minister as well as a private member and those introduced by a private member is known as a private member bill.
For introducing such bills, the president’s recommendation is not required and necessary.
Unlike the money bill, these bills can be rejected or amended even in the Rajya Sabha and the Upper House can detain such bills for a period of up to 6 months, not further than that.
Also, if such bills were defeated in the Lok Sabha, it may lead to the resignation of the whole government if introduced by a member.
Once sent for approval of the President, these bills can be accepted, rejected or returned for reconsideration to the house.
Joint Sitting of Houses
In case of a deadlock between both, the houses of parliament regarding the passing of a bill, the President of India may summon a joint sitting of both the houses.
The joint sitting of both the houses is presided over by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and in his absence, the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha discharges this function.
Article 108 of the Indian Constitution provides provisions for this mechanism which breaks the deadlock between both the houses.
According to this Article, a joint session can be called upon only if:
- A bill, after being passed out in one house, and the other house rejects it;
- One of the houses doesn’t accept the amendments passed by the other house;
- When 6 months elapse, and the other house doesn’t pass the bill.
There are some exceptions available to the Joint Sitting of the Houses:
- Money Bill: According to the Constitution, Money bills only require approval from the Lok Sabha, thus, in case of money bill the situation arises for a Joint Sitting of the Houses.
- Constitutional Amendment Bills: A Constitutional amendment bill can be passed on through a 2/3rd majority of both the houses and doesn’t have a provision for Joint Sittings in case of disagreement between the houses.
According to Article 111 of the Indian Constitution, when a bill is passed by both the houses of the Parliament it must be presented to the President and he/she needs to declare that he/she assents to the bill or withholds assent.
According to Article 110 of the Indian Constitution, a bill can be defined as a money bill if it deals with imposition, abolition, alteration or regulation of any taxes and such bills can only be introduced in the Lok Sabha and only by a member having a ministerial portfolio.
It can only be introduced on the recommendation of the president. Also, it requires certification of the Lok Sabha Speaker, when transferred to the Rajya Sabha.
If this bill is defeated in the Lok Sabha, the entire cabinet has to resign, and also, it can’t be returned for review by the President.
Financial bills are quite similar to those of Money bills.
To understand what a Financial bill is, we may assert that any such bill which carries some of the provisions of Article 110 of the Indian Constitution relating to expenditure and taxation is a financial bill.
Such bills are introduced only in Lok Sabha on the recommendation of the President and it needs to be passed in both the houses.
Now, the question which arises is what are the differences between a Money Bill and a Financial Bill?
To understand easily, we may say that Money Bills are a kind of subset of Financial Bills, i.e. all the Money Bills are Financial bills but the same is not true vice-versa.
The distinction between Money Bills, Financial Bills and Bills involving expenditures
The major difference between a Money Bill and a Financial Bill is that Rajya Sabha can’t amend the Money bill but this is not the case with the Financial Bills.
Also, a Money Bill strictly deals only with the provisions as laid down in Article 110 of the Indian Constitution while a Financial bill can also cover other provisions than taxation and expenditure.
A Money bill needs certification from the Speaker of the Lower House, while a Financial Bill doesn’t need any such certification.
Annual Financial Statement (Budget)
The Annual Financial Statement or as often called, budget is an important document dealing with the finances of a nation.
Provisions relating to Budget are discussed in Article 112 of the Indian Constitution.
The budget is presented in such a way that expenditure and receipts regarding fiscal and deficits of the current year, the previous year and the year for which budget is presented.
The Annual Financial Statement consists of three parts i.e Consolidated fund of India, Public Account of India and Contingency Fund of India.
It also includes an account of loans advanced by the government or the loans to be recovered by it including borrowing from Reserve Bank of India.
Discussion and voting on Budget
So, after a budget is proposed by the Finance Minister, it is followed by Extensive discussion in the house and lastly, voting is done.
The voting is done on the Demands of Grants.
Now, what are the Demands of Grants?
Demands of Grants basically mean expected spending by a particular department or ministry. Now after this voting is done, the parliament happens to be in recess.
After the recess is over, then all the standing committees submit their respect reports followed by discussion and voting.
This is all how discussion and voting are done during the tabling of the budget in the budget session of parliament.
After the discussions are over on budget and expenses, then an appropriation bill is tabled by the government if it intends to withdraw funds from the Consolidated Fund of India.
This is done when the government wants to withdraw the funds for expanding and meeting the expenditure.
It must be noted that this bill is introduced only in the Lok Sabha.
Supplementary Additional or Excess Grants
Excess Grants are granted to the Government when the amount authorized for a particular service by virtue of a law is found to be insufficient.
These funds are granted by the President of India.
The Constitution of India discusses this in Article 115 of part V.
Also, when the actual expenditure incurred on a certain service or scheme is more than what was allocated for the same, then the Comptroller and Auditor General takes action and brings notice to the Parliament.
After that, the respective ministers raise demand for excess grant and then the procedure regarding the same is followed by voting and discussion.
General Rules of Procedure
The General rules of procedure deal with the procedure and conduct to be followed in both the houses. It lays down the parliamentary procedures and rules according to which the parliament must function.
It also lay down process according to which the parliament must table and pass a bill or other kinds of legislation. It also deals with the structure and function of the standing committees on different matters
These rules are fundamental for the genuine working and functioning of the Parliament.
Parliamentary Control over Financial Matters
Financial matters in India are largely controlled by the Parliament. This control includes control over revenue matters and expenditure related issues.
As stated in the Constitution in Article 265, no tax can be collected or levied by the executive authorities without any law supporting it. So, if tax is imposed upon anyone without having legislative backing, then the person can go to court for redressal.
As Parliament holds control over the Consolidated Fund of India, its control over the expenditure is pivotal. As the Consolidated fund of India is the reservoir of all the expenses and finances of India, the parliament thus exerts full control over expenditure.
Parliamentary committees are made to ease the scrutinizing of the legislative and other matters of the Parliament. Broadly, these committees can be classified as Standing committees, which are permanent and ad hoc committees that are temporary and are constituted according to the need.
Among the standing committees, the estimates committee, public accounts committee and public undertakings committees are the major ones.
However, 17 different standing committees for different departments are also constituted for easing the business. Some such committees are committees of petitions, a committee of privileges, committee on papers laid, etc.
While the Ad Hoc committees are more of temporary committees. These committees address matters like committees on five-year plans, the joint committee on Bofors agreement, committee on food management in the parliament, etc.
Language to be used in Parliament
The official languages of India can be used in the Parliament of India, i.e. Hindi and English.
Article 343 of the Indian Constitution provides for the official language of India. However, the members can use any of the scheduled languages while in discussion or debate.
Restriction on discussion in Parliament
To keep the doctrine of Separation of Power intact, the Constitution of India forbids the Parliament to legislate and discuss certain matters.
Article 121 discusses these provisions.
This includes any discussion regarding the conduct of the judges of the Supreme Court or judges of any of the High Courts. However, the discussion can happen in the question of the impeachment of a judge.
Courts not to inquire into proceedings of Parliament
This may be seen as vice-versa provision of Article 121. Article 122 of the Constitution provides for the provision that the courts can not inquire into the proceedings of the legislation.
Also, any officer or member of the Parliament while exercising his powers endowed upon him/her by parliament is not subject to the jurisdiction of any of the Courts.
The Comptroller and Auditor-General of India
In the words of the architect of the Indian Constitution, Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India is one of the most important officers which the Constitution provides for as he/she looks after finances and expenditure by the Parliament.
CAG of India is not accountable towards anyone but the public as he/she looks after the public purse of the nation.
Article 148 of the Constitution talks about the appointment of CAG and its oath. He/she also derives authority from The Comptroller and Auditor General’s (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971.
Duties and Powers
The major duties and functions of the CAG, according to the Indian Constitution are:
- All the accounts of Union Government and State Governments come under the ambit of Audit by the CAG.
- All the expenditures from the Contingency Fund and the Public Account are also audited by the CAG.
- CAG also audits all the expenditures and receipts by all the Government authorities and Undertakings.
- CAG can also audit account of the local bodies on request of the President or the Governor.
- CAG also acts as a guide to the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament.
Therefore, in this exhaustive article about the Indian Parliament, we discussed almost all the aspects and functions of the Parliament.
Parliament is an essential political and constitutional institution that forms the bedrock of values reflecting those of democracy and representation of people and thus is fundamental in achieving the constitutional goals.
- Basu, D.D, Introduction to the Constitution of India (2011), LexisNexis
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