Kolkata: The Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal Government on Monday, May 17, passed a proposal in its cabinet calling for restoration of Bidhan Parishad- the upper house of Assembly, 52 years after it was abolished during the 2nd United Front Government in 1969.
It can be recalled that the restart of Bidhan Parishad was a poll promise of the Mamata Banerjee government. Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Telengana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka currently have the upper house in Legislative Assembly. If West Bengal succeeds in getting Parliamentary approval then it will be the seventh state in the country to have the system in place.
According to law, the minimum strength of the upper house should be 40 or one sixth of the Assembly strength of the state, whichever is higher. Notably, in 2011 too, the West Bengal Government led by Mamata Banerjee had tried to reinstate the Bidhan Parishad, but had abandoned the project in the face of stiff opposition from the Left.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] has strongly decried the move, referring it as an excess drainage of funds amid testing times of the Indian democracy as a whole owing to the COVID-19 situation. Commenting on the government’s move, CPI(M) state secretary Suryakanta Mishra said that in these times when medicines and oxygen cylinders are falling short and vacant beds are unavailable in the government hospitals, restoration of the Bidhan Parishad is tantamount to “buying a white elephant and caring for it”.
Interestingly, even though West Bengal had continued with the system of Bidhan Parishad after Independence, it was abolished during the second united front government as it was felt that the
direct electoral mandate is negated by it. The second united front was a coalition of the Bangla Congress and the Left parties.
During the period, Pranab Mukherjee, who had become a Lok Sabha member for the first time, had advocated for an end to the system in Parliament. The Bill was unequivocally passed in both the houses of Parliament.
Talking further about the Bidhan Parishad, Dr Mishra said, even though the country’s parliamentary system has two house, the same cannot be considered in case of states’ legislative structure. He also said that the upper house of Parliament is a necessity to reflect the regional aspirations of the people of such a vast country like India.
“However, at the state level the same is to be decided according to the needs of the people of the state. If the party in power in the state is the party having the mandate in the Bidhan Parishad, then they are just a yes man to the state government. On the other hand, if the Opposition has the mandate in the upper house, then there is possibility of a constitutional stalemate arising, which may affect the state government’s work,” he added.
He highlighted that the debates in the Constituent Assembly during the post-independence period reflected the issues associated with an upper house in the state level. “In the post-independence years, 436 bills came to the Bidhan Parishad from 1952 to 1965, out of which 434 were passed in while only two bills were rectified,” he said.
Thus, he added, the Bidhan Parishad is nothing more than an unnecessary tax on the state’s exchequer.