By Th. Binoy Kumar Singha
Setting up of an Upper House in Assam has been a long felt demand of the people of Assam since its abolition in 1947.The proposal is, however, pending for consideration before the Union Cabinet since its submission by the Government of Assam in 2013. Earlier also, in the year 1995, the Assam Assembly had adopted a resolution under Article 169 of the Constitution recommending creation of a Legislative Council in the State. Creation of an Upper House or Legislative Council in the State has to be approved by an act of Parliament, if found feasible and justified, once the proposal is received from the concerned state government. Now, the time has come to make it a point to pursue for its approval by the Union Cabinet at the earliest.
An Upper House in Assam is needed to accommodate various unrepresented ethnic groups and communities for their fair representation. In the year 2013, Assam and Rajasthan Assemblies adopted resolutions for creation of Legislative Councils with 42 and 66 members respectively. Fincial implications for establishment of an Upper House in Rajasthan was projected Rs.100 Crores while the Assam Government said there would be a onetime cost of Rs.68 Crores with a recurring expenditure of Rs.19 Crore. However, the two state governments reasoned that an Upper House will provide a better opportunity for peoples’ participation in governce and decision-making. The Parliamentary Standing Committee constituted by the Government of India in this regard also supported the proposal to set up the Upper House in the larger public interest. But, at the same time, the Committee also suggested that the central government should evolve a tiol policy for the creation of an Upper House in State Legislatures so that it is not abolished by successive governments. Several social organizations also argued that members of various communities and ethnic groups which could not be sent to the Assembly would be accommodated in the council for fair representation.
We may recall the Bhupinder Singh Committee Report, which was constituted by the Government of India in February, 1991 to determine the area of Bodos and other plain tribes to the North of Brahmaputra and make recommendation as to the autonomy, legislative, administrative and fincial powers, rather made an innovative suggestion for representation of ST population in an enlarged Second Chamber. The Committee, however, envisaged the Legislative Council to be a forum for discussion, debate and decision on ethnic matter and to act as guardian for the ethnic groups in the State. On the other hand, we may also recall the Second Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Dr. M. Veerappa Moily which inter alia examined Local Self Governce, had recommended abolition of Graduates and Teachers Constituencies and constituting Legislative Council in each state in the pattern of Rajya Sabha which a is Council of States. According to the Commission, however, the Legislative Council should be a body of local bodies only–Panchayats and Municipalities.
Although the Bhupinder Singh Committee report was summarily rejected initially by the ethnic groups and many others, after formation of the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC), a concept that derived from its report for constitution of village centric autonomous councils, in the pattern as suggested in the Bhupinder Singh Committee, further demands were made by the ethnic groups for creation of autonomous councils in the state. Subsequently, 9 (Nine) Autonomous Councils have been constituted in the State till date which includes Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, Dima Hasao Autonomous District Council, Mising Autonomous Council, Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council, Tiwa Autonomous Council, Deori Autonomous Council, Thengal Kachari Autonomous Council and Sonowal Kachari Autonomous Council. Sometimes during this period in 1995, the Assam Assembly had adopted a resolution under Article 169 of the Constitution for creation of an Upper House or Legislative Council in the state. The years that followed the State Government also constituted as many as 19 Development Councils in the State so far, which includes, Koch Rajbongshi, th Yogi, Amri Karbi, Mymol, Moran, Chutia, Adivashi, Sarania Kachari, Gorkha, Tai Ahom, Muttock, Moria, Tea and Ex–Tea, Bishnupriya-Manipuri, Manipuri, Mech Kachari and Singpho–Mantai–Taiphake etc. Recently, in the beginning of the New Year, the state government has announced constitution of two more Development Councils in the state, thereby taking the total to 21. Moreover, demands for creation of more and more autonomous councils in the state are being pressed by the ethnic groups. Perhaps these developments strongly suggest justification for setting up of an Upper House in the State. It will also be worthwhile to mention here that in a very recently held North East Indigenous Peoples’ Parliament (NEIPP) at Imphal, organized by the Coalition for Indigenous Rights Campaign (CIRCA) in association with Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha and Assam Meitei Apunba Lup, gathering about 30 (thirty) indigenous communities of North East India, also urged for the constitution of a Second House in the State Legislative Assemblies in North East India with indigenous communities as constituencies. The viability of the recommendation, however, will depend upon its further discourse and practicability because, more or less, there are Autonomous Councils and Development Councils in almost all the States in the North East, either created under Sixth Schedule or constituted by the State.
If we briefly revisit the legislative history of erstwhile Assam, now truncated into several supra states, we find that Assam has had a glorious history of her own. Popularly known as the ethnological museum of India, Assam has been described as Mini-India, having a rich cultural heritage with diverse race, religion and culture. The Government of India Act 1935 made provisions for a Legislative Assembly in each province and as a result the Legislature in Assam became bicameral. The Assam Legislative Assembly, a Bi-Cameral Legislature, came into being on April 07, 1937 on the day of its first sitting in the Assembly Chamber at Shillong, the erstwhile capital of the composite state of Assam. Prior to that the Indian Council Act, 1861 did not have its own democratic institution, but was tagged with East Bengal in 1905 and the Institution was then called “Legislative Council of Eastern Bengal and Assam”, which started functioning from December 18, 1906. The Assam Legislative Assembly had the strength of 108 members and all of them were elected members. The strength of the Legislative Council (Upper House) was not less than 21 and not more than 22 members. The bicameral Assam Legislative Assembly became unicameral with the abolition of the Assam Legislative Council in 1947. In 1909, the Council had a strength of 40 members and out of 40 seats, Assam was allotted 5 seats. In 1912 Assam was reconstituted into a Chief Commissioners’ province. In the year 1913, after Assam was granted a Legislative Council under the Government of India Act. 1909, the Assam Legislative Council came into being with a strength of 34 members of which 13 were nomited by the Chief Commissioner and 21 were elected by the people. The Legislative Council of Assam first met in January, 1913 at Shillong, presided over by the Chief Commissioner of Assam. Under the Government of India Act 1919, the strength of the Legislative Council was raised to 53 members with effect from 1st April, 1921 of which 41 were elected members and the remaining 12 were nomited. The bicameral Assam Legislative Assembly became unicameral with the abolition of the Assam Legislative Council in 1947. In the years that followed, Assam was truncated to several smaller states. In 1963, galand came into being as a separate State. With the passing of North Eastern (Reorganization Areas) Act in 1971 by the Parliament, Meghalaya became a full-fledged state. Subsequently, Mizoram and Aruchal Pradesh also followed suit. After the creation of Meghalaya as a separate state, Shillong continued to be the joint capital of both Assam and Meghalaya. However, in 1972, the Government of Assam decided to shift the Capital to Dispur, Guwahati. Accordingly, the first sitting of the Budget Session of the Assam Legislative Assembly was held at the temporary capital at Dispur in March, 1973, and continued to be a permanent capital till date. There are 6 Bi-Cameral Legislatures in India as on date which includes, UP, Bihar, Kartaka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. In West Bengal, Punjab and Tamil du, the second chamber has been abolished. In Andhra Pradesh, the Second Chamber was abolished for about two decades, but again revived in 2007. As per the provision of Article 169, the Upper house can be created or abolished. However, once the purpose is over, the same may be abolished as in the case of West Bengal, T.N. and Punjab. It may be mentioned here that the Legislative Council in the J&K is constituted under Article 50 of the J&K Constitution, and not under Article 171 of the Constitution of India. With the changing geographical boundaries together with the shifts in the population graph of Assam, the strength of members of the Assam Legislative Assembly has fluctuated during the last six decades. In 1952-57 it was 108, reaching still lower to 105 in 1957-62 (the Second Assembly) and then to 114 in 1967-72 (the third Assembly) until it reached a strength of 126 members in 1972-78 (the fifth Assembly) and it has continued to maintain that figure till date.
In view of above, apart from the creation of an Upper House in Assam, perhaps we need to think of augmentation of the strength of Members in the Assembly and Parliament with proper delimitation of areas of the constituencies as well.