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Caught in a quagmire

Caught in a quagmire

While the idea itself is debatable, YSR Congress' decentralisation plan saw a significant step yesterday. Andhra Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy-led Cabinet passed a resolution to dissolve the Legislative Council or the upper house of the state's bicameral legislature. The move comes after Jaganmohan questioned the "need" for a legislative council in the state, avidly pointing towards how it is mandatory for states to have a lower house or Assembly but the decision to have the Legislative Council or upper house rests on the former. Jaganmohan's inquisitiveness had a strong reason. His question was to express discontent over hindrances caused by the Legislative Council in his governance. The heart of the matter rests on the two bills that were passed by the Assembly and sent to Legislative Council only for them to forward it to a select committee. While it may have been easy for Jaganmohan to see bills flow through the Assembly — where his party holds the majority; 151 seats out of 175 — the same was not the case in the Legislative Council. With former CM Chandrababu Naidu's party holding most of the Council's seats, bills could not be passed. Bills referring to the creation of three capitals for Andhra Pradesh was already rejected once by the Legislative Council. Given how the Assembly had passed it for a second time, the Council could only send it to a select committee in exercising its limited powers. Beneath the machinations of bicameral proceedings, it was TDP who managed to effectively block YSR from pursuing their desired agenda. The second block by Council is what incited CM Jaganmohan to question the existence of the same and Monday resolution happens to be the response to that. However, Jaganmohan's upper house problem cannot be eradicated overnight. While the idea that his government his pursuing — decentralisation of capital — in itself would require time and resources, the pre-step that he has been forced to take — dissolving the upper house — will itself stretch for months. Article 169 of the Indian Constitution does empower Parliament to enact legislation for abolishing the Legislative Council of a state if the state's Assembly has brought a resolution to that effect. The very resolution by the state's Assembly must be passed with a two-thirds majority. It is interesting to note that not all states have a Legislative Council or upper house. Ironically, it was CM Jaganmohan's father, late YS Rajasekhara Reddy of the Congress who had revived it in 2007 reversing TDP founder and then-CM NT Rama Rao's decision to abolish it back in 1985. A role-reversal has effectively taken place here. The bicameral system of legislation offers a comprehensive insight into governance with bills being required to pass by both the state's Assembly and Legislative Council — similar to Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha at the Centre. Taking account of the present scenario, the YSR Congress government has found it difficult to proceed with its agenda since key bills have been blocked by the upper house. Polity-wise, the system accounts for strict deliberations to identify possible errors and hence, is credited for being more accountable. Yet, a politically-motivated intent can lead to counterproductivity at the cost of governance. With the present diagram of both the Andhra's houses, it would seem that CM Jaganmohan's move to dissolve the upper house is a straightforward attempt to bypass the upper house and enact what the Assembly deems important in public interest. The impasse between the state's houses and the Cabinet's decision to move a resolution will also be seen from a polarising lens creating two factions of TDP and YSR respectively. It is only the details and requirement of bills that have been blocked which can unlock the impasse and justify actions of either side.

The idea of three capitals is subject to debate. In making three capitals, the Andhra Pradesh government is only pushing for a historic yet costly affair. The government proposed to retain Amaravati as the legislative capital while making Visakhapatnam the executive capital and Kurnool the judicial capital. Processes that involve more than one of the three arms of democracy would suffer under this plan since all these three proposed capitals are not in close proximity. Decentralisation of capital was prominent in colonial days but it was done for strategic reasons. Jaganmohan's decentralisation plan should carry strong reasons in order to materialise. While Council's repeated blocks suggest politically-motivated intent, Assembly's unanimous passing of the bill also requires to be checked. After all, the very reason for a bicameral system was to check arbitrary action should the government hold a landslide majority. A resolution to dissolve the Council may seem arbitrary too in general perspective and that is why deliberation over the need of such a step is important. The difference of opinion between Houses of the legislature is not something uncommon. Convening joint sitting or expediting committee report to scrutinise the bills and pass them might be a better alternative than approaching Parliament with the step to do away with the dissenting House.

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