In January 1949 during the debate on Article 148 in the Constituent Assembly, pertaining to the formation of two Houses for the states, one member from Orissa province Lakshmi Narayan Sahu moved an amendment to have an Upper House in the province. Biswanath Das, another member from the same province and who later became the chief minister of Orissa (1971-72) called the Upper House ‘an expensive ornament’ and ‘an appendage which is better be thrown out’ while arguing against the amendment. The amendment was rejected.
Seventy years later the present Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik has adorned an 'expensive ornament', the Legislative Council or the Vidhan Parishad, while the state is facing a heavy loan burden of around Rs 92,000 crore.
The Odisha Assembly passed the resolution by 104 votes to set up the Legislative Council on 6 September 2018.
The proposed legislative council will have 49 members. According Article 171(1) of the Constitution, the legislative council of a state cannot have more than one third members of the total strength of the Legislative Assembly. Odisha has total 147 members in the Legislative Assembly.
Extra Burden for a Cash-strapped State
All the members of the Council will get salary, allowances and benefits like that of the MLAs. The Odisha government will have to bear an extra burden of Rs 35 crore per annum towards the salary and allowances of the members of the Legislative Council. The cost towards infrastructure, staff, accommodation, security and secretarial expenses to run the Legislative Council have not been estimated yet.
The Chairman and the Deputy Chairman of the Council will enjoy the status and benefits of a Cabinet minister. The detailed expenditure towards this is yet to be worked out.
The annual administrative expenditure for Odisha Assembly is around 45 crore rupees. Similarly, to run a 49-member Upper House the state government will have to cough up several more crores every year.
In a cash-strapped state like Odisha, when the debt burden of the state has gone up to Rs 92,000 crore, the push for setting up a Legislative Council shows a short-sighted political move of an astute chief minister like Naveen Patnaik.
BJD’s Strategic Move for 2019 Elections
It doesn’t seem like the 2019 elections will be a smooth sail for the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) though Patnaik still holds sway in Odisha politics even after 18 years of uninterrupted rule. Anti-incumbency, factionalism and the spate of corruption allegations against many leaders of the party could pose a serious challenge for Patnaik’s leadership in 2019.
The BJD needs to redefine its strategy for the 2019 elections. The clean image of Patnaik may not earn political dividends to the party in the upcoming elections.
In the present Assembly there are around 50 members from the ruling party who are serving their second or third terms. There are many BJD leaders who have brought ill repute to the party because of their links with various scams especially the multi-thousand crore chit fund scam. In such a situation many sitting MLAs may not get tickets for the 2019 elections. Few members of Parliament may also lose their candidature because of lacklustre performance. In an election year, Patnaik can’t afford to disappoint many party leaders.
The Legislative Council could be a good avenue to rehabilitate the disgruntled leaders who may not get chance to contest the upcoming election. With 118 MLAs and a dominating position among the local bodies across the state the BJD could send 35-40 members to the Legislative Council. This will also give a chance to the ruling party to bring in many new young leaders into the electoral fray without disappointing the veterans.
Though, according to Patnaik, establishment of the Legislative Council will help in ‘wider consultation’ to maintain the ‘growth momentum’ of the state, it’s a long road ahead before the Upper House becomes a reality in Odisha.
BJP’s Dilemma or a Done Deal?
The leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Odisha have been opposing the move of the Naveen Patnaik government to establish a Legislative Council. But the recent new-found bonhomie between the BJP at the Centre and the BJD has left the state leaders of the BJP in a dilemma.
As the Odisha Assembly has passed the resolution to set up the Legislative Council, now the resolution has to be sent to the Centre. According to Article 169 of the Constitution the resolution needs to be passed in the both Houses of the Parliament.
The BJD has extended its support to the BJP on many important occasions like demonetisation, presidential elections, election of the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha to name a few. The BJD also came to the aid of the ruling BJP by staging a walk-out during the recent debate on the no-confidence motion against the Modi government in the Lok Sabha.
As the resolution to establish Odisha Legislative Council needs to be passed in both the Houses of the Parliament, will the Centre now oblige the BJD?
The bills to set up Legislative Councils in Assam and Rajasthan, now both ruled by the BJP, are pending for the Parliament’s nod since 2013. In such a case, preference to the Odisha Legislative Council Bill could be a tight rope walk for the BJP.