As the future of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council now rests in the hands of Parliament, the ruling party still plans to maximise from its presence. Until the Parliament approves the resolution, the Council continues to be functional and dispense its duties.
Since India became a democratic, sovereign State, it has had a bicameral legislative system, i.e., two Houses of Parliament. At the state level, the equivalent of the Lok Sabha is the Vidhan Sabha or Legislative Assembly, and that of the Rajya Sabha is the Vidhan Parishad or Legislative Council. While the Constitution of India does not mandate it, 6 out of 28 states have a legislative council. The states with bicameral legislature include Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh. These states have both the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly.
Recently, Andhra Pradesh was in the news for all the wrong reasons, one of which was the CM’s arbitrary decision to abolish the Legislative Council. The TDP which was vehemently opposed to the idea of three capitals was successful in securing a committee to review the legislation in the Council. Soon after, on 27 January 2020, the CM of Andhra Pradesh Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy asked for the Legislative Council to be scrapped. It was a fairly easy move for the YSRCP to pass a resolution to that effect in the Legislative Assembly because of its significant majority.
In January, the YSRCP had just nine members in the 58-member Council and would have to wait till 2021 to improve its tally. On the other hand, the TDP formed the majority in the Council. The leader of opposition in the Legislative Council Yanamala Ramakrishnudu stressed on the need for the existence of a bicameral system in the states to create checks and balances.
The second House of Legislature is considered essential for two reasons: one, to act as a check on hasty actions by the elected representatives in the legislative assembly and, two, to ensure that individuals who might not be cut out for the rough-and-tumble of direct elections too are able to contribute to the legislative process.
How is the Legislative Council created?
The members of the Council are either indirectly elected or are nominated by the state Governor. The Legislative Assembly elects one-third of the members in the Council. The local bodies like municipalities elect another one-third. One-twelfth of the members are elected by the Graduates. One-twelfth of the members are chosen by teachers. About one-sixth of the members are nominated by the Governor. The legislative Council elects its Chairman, who plays the role of presiding officer and Deputy Chairman from amongst its members.
Why does the Legislative Council matter so much?
In a democracy, multiple ways to implement a system of checks and balances are necessary. Legislative Councils make sense because it can limit the powers of the elected representatives by keeping a check on their legislative actions. Since its role is focused on overseeing the affairs of the Legislative Assembly, it does not affect the formation or dissolution of the governments. The Council is effective in keeping a check on erratic decisions and policy measures.
State legislatures have a provision to form a select committee to scrutinising particular legislation or a subject. Several Bills in states are referred to ensure larger accountability and avoid political bias. Select committees consist of members from different parties and provide a platform for inclusive decision making and consensus.
The Fiasco of Three Capitals Bill
Coming back to the AP Reorganisation Bill fiasco that was pushed to a Select Committee by the Legislative Council members, the Bill was a way to implement the over ambitious three capital plan of the government led by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy. With YSRCP having only nine members in the Council, the ruling party fell into deeprooted political insecurity. While the opposition rightfully asks for discussion and debate, fearing a humiliation, YSRCP was ill considerate of the option. The issues with this model have been dealt with here.
The YSRCP stuck to publicising a narrative in line with the Chief Minister’s statement, “We are spending Rs 60 crore per year on the Council. Thus, we incur Rs 300 crore over five years. Being a poor state, can we afford this burden?”. As much as the argument stands on a frail base, the right question here must be about the institutional dividends it adds in a democracy.
Is the Council here to stay?
As the future of the State Legislative Council now rests in the hands of Parliament, the ruling party still plans to maximise from its presence. Until the Parliament approves the resolution, the Council continues to be functional and dispense its duties. In the recent election to vacant MLC position, EX. Minister Dokka Manikya Varaprasad, who months ago resigned from TDP and joined YSRCP, was chosen Unanimously. On the other hand, two additional MLC berths lay vacant with the resignation of Pilli Subhash Chandrabose and Mopidevi Venkata Ramana after they were nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Ahead of the anticipated cabinet expansion, these nominations become important.
Even before Andhra Pradesh, the bills to re-establish councils in the state of Rajasthan, Assam, MP, Odisha are still pending before the Parliament. With several cases of cancellation and reinstatement of Councils, the Parliament mulls for a consistent national policy on Councils. Given the circumstances, it is unlikely for the Parliament to approve the cancellation. The AP Legislative Council might as well be here to stay for now.