By Madhav Godbole
Elections of graduates and teachers constituencies in six state legislative councils are just over. These elections raise a number of points. The first is whether there is enough justification for the continuance of these second chambers. In the Constituent Assembly, questions were raised about the need for second chamber in Parliament and the state legislatures. Gandhiji considered it a waste of money to have second chambers and was of the view that a poor country like India did not afford this luxury. Dr. Ambedkar had suggested that the question of second chambers may be decided after seeing their work and evaluating it.
Rajya Sabha, at least, had some justification as a representative of states. But, after the Constitutional amendment effected by the Vajpayee government in 2002 by which a person need not be a resident of the state for being elected to the Rajya Sabha, even this justification has vanished. The composition of the Rajya Sabha is now no different than the Lok Sabha. It is not the house of the elders, as was expected earlier. It is as noisy and acrimonious as the Lok Sabha. The latest instance was at the time of the passage of the farm bills in 2020 when some members of Rajya Sabha were suspended for days for their disorderly behaviour. Questions about the need for continuance of Rajya Sabha have been raised several times in the past but the status-quoist thinking has prevailed. Political parties are also not prepared to let go of this patronage for accommodating their members who are unable to get elected by direct elections.
The same is true of the legislative councils. The decision to have second chambers in the state legislature has been left to the states. Over the last 70 years since the adoption of the Constitution, a number of states have abolished the councils. Some have decided to revive them for political convenience. Currently, only six states have legislative councils. The decisions of abolition or revival of legislative councils have been purely political. They were not based on any studies. But it is never too late. I would urge that each of the six states should undertake studies to evaluate the work of these councils to decide their continuance.
If the councils are to be continued, the question of their composition needs to be considered afresh. In the first draft of Article 170 presented to the Constituent Assembly, it was proposed that the composition should be laid down in the Act by Parliament. However, there was an overwhelming opinion in the Assembly that the composition should be spelt out in the article itself. Accordingly, Article 170 provides the present composition which includes, among others, separate constituencies for graduates and teachers, and nominated members (following the example of Rajya Sabha).
Serious questions arise about the continuance of the graduates and teachers constituencies. The literacy was only 12 per cent in 1947. According to the 1951 census, it was 27.16 % for males, 8.86 % for females and 18.33 % combined. The corresponding figures for 2011 census were 82.14, 65.46 and 74.04. There were only 25 universities in 1950. There has been exponential growth in higher education with 54 central universities, 411 state universities, 123 deemed universities, and 287 private universities, making a total of 875 universities in 2020. India’s higher education system is now the third largest in the world, after the USA and China.
More than 50 % of MPs are now graduates. Several are even post-graduates. The position in the state legislative assemblies and councils is no different. In such a situation, it is totally unnecessary to have a few separate graduate constituencies in the councils.
The actual experience in terms of voting is also disappointing for both the graduates and teachers constituencies. For example, in a graduates constituency in Karnataka in 2007, there were 7 lakh eligible voters. Of these, only 8 % or 60,000 were registered. Actual voting was 21,270 or 3 % of the eligible voters. The votes polled by the winning candidate were just 11,423 or 1.6 %. It is seen from an election petition in UP (No. 2 of 2014; Pramod kumar Misra v. Chet Narayan Singh) that of the 26,958 total voters, the winning candidate got only 17,404 votes. In the two teachers constituencies in Pune and Amravati divisions in Maharashtra legislative council elections in December 2020, the number of valid votes polled was just 50,227 and 29,829, respectively. What kind of representative democracy is this? Is it necessary to have separate teachers constituencies any longer? Is it worthwhile to take the trouble to revise the electoral rolls for these constituencies at the time of each election?
Yet another factor needs to be noted. Teaching is a profession. Why should preferential treatment be given to only one profession for representation in the councils? There was some justification for it when the Constitution was framed. Now, with large number of other professions in India such as in industry, information technology, media, chartered accountancy, engineering, medicine, social service and so on, either representation ought to be given to these diverse professions or that given to teachers, as a generic group, be abolished.
The provision regarding members to be nominated by Governor has always been controversial. The recommendations by the state government to the Governor have largely been on political considerations. As compared to the past, sportspersons, artists, writers, social workers, co-operators and other categories mentioned in Article 170 now have ample opportunities to express their views through diverse channels of communication and the media. The system of nominated members may therefore be abolished.
It is time the need for continuance of legislative councils is reconsidered. Even if the councils are to be continued, their composition must be examined afresh and the Constitution amended suitably.
—The writer is former Union Home Secretary and Secretary, Justice. His forthcoming book is India—A Federal Union of States: Ten Faultlines, Challenges and Opportunities