TA Threads: What did Constituent Assembly say on Bicameralism in States?

By Gautam

The newly constituted Mamta cabinet cleared the proposal to set up Legislative Council in the state. It was one of the key poll promises made by TMC in its manifesto. Let’s take a look on the discussions in Constituent Assembly regarding the idea of having bicameralism in states/provinces.

BN Rau in his ‘Model Provincial Constitution’ has noted that the existence & composition of second chamber should be left to the decision of the representatives of that province in the Constituent Assembly. But nothing conclusive was said on it’s power & function.

The Union Constitution Committee suggested that their role should be same to that of Upper House at the centre (limited in money bills, same in other respects). But when it came up before the Constituent Assembly in July-August 1947, the idea of bicameralism in provinces saw a mixed response.

NG Ayyangar – “The most the we expect the second chamber to do, is perhaps to hold dignified debates on important issues and to delay legislation which might be the outcome of passions of the moment.”

HV Kamath was of the opinion that an upper house at the centre was acceptable but in the provinces such houses were prenicious and vicious.

K Santhanam was of the opinion that second chamber was not necessary in order to avoid the hasty enactment of legislation because the modern legislative process was sufficiently slow to accomplish this end itself. (He did not foresee 2020-21 parliament sessions coming)

In Nov 1948 the provincial delegations in the assembly voted on the question of second chambers in their provinces. Despite opposition from the prominent faces in the assembly, most of the provinces chose to have bicameral legislatures.

Bombay, Madras, Bihar, East Punjab, UP by majority opted for it. Delegation of West Bengal found itself divided in first meeting on 24th Nov 1948 but they voted (12:3) for second chamber the very next day. Assam and Central Province decided against having a second chamber.

Dr. Ambedkar in July 1948 moved an amendment allowing the parliament to abolish the legislative council if the lower house of that province passed a resolution in this regard. In another amendment (to avoid joint setting) he suggested to allow the passage of any bill by the lower house over the objection of the legislative council.

He clarified that the joint setting was kept at the center to give value to the federal character of the union parliament which was not the case in the provinces.

Coming back to West Bengal, as we saw – it voted for the second chamber and continued with it till 1969. In this year a resolution was brought to abolish the legislative council. However, soon there will be a bill to set up the legislative council in the state again.

(Gautam is a Co-founder and Lead – Research and Advocacy at TA. He tweets at @stoic_gautamkr)

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