Former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said as a council of states, the Rajya Sabha should have a greater say in legislations dealing with redrawing boundaries of states.
However, he did not name Jammu and Kashmir, which was recently bifurcated into Union territories.
Participating in the discussion on the “Role of Rajya Sabha in Indian Polity and Need for Reform” on the first day of the 250th session of the House, Singh said, “…on some matters, this House should be given greater respect by the executive, that is not the case now.”
“For example, important issues like redrawing the boundaries of a state…converting them into Union territories, is such a far-reaching proposal or legislation, this House, a council of states, should be given more powers to deal with these issues.
“The government should consult with the council of states much more effectively before such drastic measures can be considered by the House as a whole,” he added.
On the issue of scrutiny of bills by parliamentary committees, Singh said, “For our chamber (Rajya Sabha) to fully function, it is required that we scrutinise the bills more thoroughly in (parliamentary) committees, where not only the members can apply their mind, even the opinion of stakeholders can be solicited.”
He told the House that in the 16th Lok Sabha, only 25 per cent of the bills introduced were referred to the committees, much lesser than the 71 per cent and the 60 per cent in the 15th and 14th Lok Sabha respectively.
“I would assert that regardless of what the other House does, it is crucial for our House to form select committees to ensure that the bills receive the detailed scrutiny that they deserve,” the Congress leader said.
The Rajya Sabha committees had done a commendable job of improving legislations, he said, adding, “I would urge that we should follow this practice for all the bills which come before this august House.”
On the misuse of the provisions of money bills, Singh said, “Article 110 allows precedence of Lok Sabha over the matters in money bills. In the recent past, we have seen instances of misuse of money bills’ provisions by the executive, leading to bypassing the Rajya Sabha.”
“Today, as we celebrate the 250th session of the Rajya Sabha, it is appropriate for us to reflect on whether we lived up to the expectations of the framers of our Constitution,” he said.
Stating that Parliament was not a legislative but deliberative body, the former prime minister said, “So far as deliberative functions are concerned, it is open to us to make valuable contributions.
We should do everything to justify to the public of our country that a second chamber (Rajya Sabha) is necessary to prevent hasty legislation. It is our duty to ensure that no law is passed in haste and in an atmosphere of heightened emotions.”
“The Rajya Sabha constitutes a system of checks and balances. It has a central role to provide checks and balances to a majority government and also to represent the states in our federal union,” he said.
Singh demanded that the members should get more resources like adequate research staff, which would would allow them to study issues better.
The nominated members and those with a special expertise should be allotted more time for their speeches, he said.
Singh also suggested that every year, the Rajya Sabha should find time to debate Centre-states relations as it was a council of states.
Besides, the former prime minister also sought that every year, there should be a debate on the state of the nation’s health and education.