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The Big Picture - Rajya Sabha 250th Session – Takeaways

  • 27 Dec 2019
  • 12 min read

The Winter Session of Parliament was held from November 18, 2019 to December 13, 2019. During this session, Parliament celebrated two milestones: first, function held in the Central Hall of Parliament to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the enactment of the Constitution and second, was the 250th session of Rajya Sabha. Marking almost 100% productivity during its 20 sittings this session, 15 Bills were passed by Rajya Sabha including the landmark Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill (2019) and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (2019). This session also highlighted the wider role of Rajya Sabha in Indian Polity.

Significance of Rajya Sabha

  • Formation: The Rajya Sabha was first constituted in 1952 as a permanent body which is not subject to dissolution.
    • However, one-third of its members retire every second year and are eligible for re-election & renomination any number of times.
  • Strength: The maximum strength of the Rajya Sabha is fixed at 250, out of which, 238 are the representatives of the states and union territories (elected indirectly) and 12 are nominated by the President. The seats are allotted to the states in the Rajya Sabha on the basis of the population.
  • Term of Office: The Constitution has not fixed the term of office of members of the Rajya Sabha and left it to the Parliament.
    • Accordingly, the Parliament in the Representation of the People Act (1951) provided that the term of office of a member of the Rajya Sabha shall be six years.
  • Special Powers:
    • Rajya Sabha can authorize the Parliament to make a law on a subject enumerated in the State List (Article 249).
    • It can authorize the Parliament to create new All-India Services common to both the Centre and the states (Article 312).

Key Takeaways from the 250th Session

Praising the members for their brevity, the Chairman of Rajya Sabha noted that about 9.5 starred questions were answered orally every day of this Session- making a new record since 1971 (previous best was 8.7 during the 198th session in 2003).

  • Difference over Previous Sessions:
    • Increased Productivity: Despite being the shorter session, this session remained highly productive over the previous ones.
      • The Rajya Sabha worked for around 92% of its scheduled time, of which 39% of the total functional time was spent on legislative business, 25.4% on raising and discussing matters of urgent public importance under Short Duration Discussion, Calling Attention Notices, Zero Hour and Special Mentions, 13% on Question Hour meant for ensuring accountability of the executive and 5% on Private Members’ Bills.
      • Significant importance given to the Question Hour, answering of more oral questions, short, intense and precise discussions by legislators over Standing Committees reports, and the increased zero hour submissions reflect the enhanced accountability.
    • Absenteeism: Chairman this time freely discussed over issues like, non-attendance of legislators to target the problem of absenteeism. Many a times this leads to halting of Business of the House due to absence of the required Quorum.
      • The Chairman also asked the members to ensure their presence in the Parliamentary Standing Committees. He highlighted that out of 80 members in 8 Parliamentary Standing Committees (under the administrative control of Rajya Sabha), only 18 members had 100% attendance.
  • Charter: At the beginning of the session, 15 point charter was released by the Vice-President highlighting the support and reforms Rajya Sabha needed.
  • Issues Addressed: The discussions on contemporary issues like onion prices, economic slowdown, inter-alia reflects the receptive and compassionate behaviour of the House towards the people.
    • Also a special discussion on 'The Role of Rajya Sabha in Indian polity and the way forward’ was held.
    • Calling attention motions on ‘Situation arising out of the dangerous levels of air pollution in the country, particularly in Delhi’, “Need for completion of National Irrigation Projects to tackle emerging water crisis and to transfer 'Water' to Concurrent List from State List” were also taken up in the Rajya Sabha.
  • Language: The Chairman expressed his will to address the language barrier by allowing less spoken regional languages in the House. He proposed to recruit expert translators who can efficiently translate the regional languages into English and Hindi (as according to Article 120 the language to be used in the Parliament shall be Hindi or English).
  • The Rajya Sabha secretariat also released the first-ever analysis of its legislative work viz., “Rajya Sabha: The Journey since 1952” to commemorate the 250th session.

Drishti Input

Parliamentary Mechanisms:

  • Short Duration Discussion- also known as two-hour discussion as the time allotted for such a discussion should not exceed two hours. The members of the Parliament can raise such discussions on a matter of urgent public importance.
  • Calling Attention Notices- It is introduced in the Parliament by a member to call the attention of a minister to a matter of urgent public importance, and to seek an authoritative statement from him/her on that matter.
  • Special Mentions- A matter which cannot be raised during question hour, half-an-hour discussion, short duration discussion or under adjournment motion, calling attention notice or under any rule of the House can be raised under the special mention in the Rajya Sabha.
  • Zero Hour- It is an informal device available to the members of the Parliament to raise matters without any prior notice. The zero hour starts immediately after the question hour and lasts until the agenda for the day (i.e., regular business of the House) is taken up.
  • Quorum- Quorum is the minimum number of members required to be present in the House before it can transact any business. It is one-tenth of the total number of members of the House (including the presiding officer). If there is no quorum during a meeting of the House, it is the duty of the presiding officer either to adjourn the House or to suspend the meeting until there is a quorum.

Bills Passed in Rajya Sabha:

Way Forward

  • Members need to abide by their commitment and ensure their presence for smooth functioning of the House.
  • The balance between the government (Executive) business and the Parliamentary business needs to be maintained by effectively discussing and addressing the contemporary issues concerning the nation.

Indeed, Rajya Sabha has all through been a lively and sagacious institution. It must continue to function with greater vigor and zeal towards fulfilling the aspirations of the people.

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