The Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal approved the formation of a Legislative Council earlier this week. It was a pledge made on the party’s election platform. A coalition government of the Left parties in West Bengal abolished the Legislative Council 50 years ago.
The Legislative Council exists in six states: Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka. The state government does not have exclusive authority over the establishment of a second chamber. In addition, the central government must pilot a Bill in Parliament. As a result, this problem could become a new flashpoint between the state and the federal government.
There was a debate in the Constituent Assembly on whether states should have a second chamber during the framing of the Constitution. When it came to the states, the claims in favour of Rajya Sabha — that a second chamber serves as a check on hasty legislation and brings diverse voices into legislatures — fell flat with many Constituent Assembly members.
The second chamber in states, according to Prof K T Shah of Bihar, “involves substantial outlay from the public exchequer on account of the wages and allowances of Members, as well as incidental charges.” They only serve to assist party bosses in distributing more patronage and in obstructing or blocking necessary legislation that the people have voted for.”
The Constitution’s framers stipulated that the states of Bihar, Bombay, Madras, Punjab, the United Provinces, and West Bengal would have a Legislative Council at the outset. The states were then given the option of abolishing or creating a new second chamber by passing a resolution in their Legislative Assembly.
If the Legislative Assembly and the Council differ on a statute, the Constitution gives the Legislative Assembly the right to overrule the Council. The Constitution also limited the council’s membership to one-third of the Legislative Assembly, which was elected by the people.
The West Bengal Legislative Council was active until 1969. The abolition of the second chamber, however, was precipitated by events in the second chamber two years earlier. In 1967, the Congress lost control in a number of states in the fourth general election. The United Front, a 14-party alliance in West Bengal, formed the government, with the Congress in opposition.