The bicameral (two-chamber) Parliament (Sansad) of India consists of 1) the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) — India’s upper house and the equivalent of the House of Lords — and 2) the Lok Sabha (House of the People) — India’s lower house and the equivalent of House of Commons. Legislative power is vested in this Parliament. The Council of Ministers, which serves under the prime minister, is responsible to the Lok Sabha.

The House of the People (Lok Sabha) has 545 seats — 543 members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote and 2 appointed by the president; members. Representatives of the lower house serve a maximum of five years; most serve shorter terms. The Rajya Sabha has limited power and is comprised of 245 seats — 233 members indirectly elected by state and territorial assemblies by proportional representation vote and 12 members appointed by the president; members serve six-year terms, , with one-third up for election every two years. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2023]

The constitution of India separates the powers of the government into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The relationship between the legislative and executive branches follows the parliamentary model of Great Britain. The legislature passes laws on constitutionally specified matters, such as central government finances and constitutional amendments. In regard to the Lok Sabha, the constitution states a new election must be held at least every 5 years. If none is called before that time, parliament is automatically dissolved. [Source: Library of Congress, 2005]

The powers and authority of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are not differentiated. The two houses have the same powers, but the Rajya Sabha’s power in the legislative process is subordinate to the Lok Sabha. The index of the constitution, for example, has a lengthy list of the powers of Parliament but not for each separate house. The key differences between the two houses lie in their disparate authority in the legislative process.

The trading of insults, shoves and occasionally blows is no uncommon in the Indian legislature.. Boycotts, walk outs, suspensions and purges are routinely employed for political reasons. Of 543 seats for elected representatives in the Lok Sabha, 84 seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes ((formerly "Untouchables") and 47 for Scheduled Tribes.

Indian Legislature and Branches of Government

India is a federal (or quasi-federal) democratic republic with a parliamentary system of government largely based on the UK model. India’s modern parliamentary institutions originate from the British colonial administration but developed organically as a result of increasing Indian demand for greater representation in government. [Source: Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, 2017 |*|]

India’s federal legislative branch consists of the President, the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. If a political party or a coalition receives more than half of the total number of seats in the Lok Sabha, which in its current composition is 273 seats, that party/coalition is able to form a government. Elections to the Lok Sabha are carried out using a first-past-the-post electoral system. In order for a bill to become law in India, it must undergo a three-stage process in each house of Parliament that involves introduction, consideration, and final passage, and must also be given presidential assent. |*|

The prime minister is by far the most powerful figure in the India government. He or she must enjoy the support of a majority of the 545-member Lok Sabha (People's House). The prime minister and the cabinet are at all times responsible to the Lok Sabha, The Prime Minister acts as the leader of the parliament house of which he or she is a member, usually the Lok Sabha. In this role, he or she is tasked with representing the executive in the legislature, announcing important legislation, and is also expected to respond to the concerns of the opposition. Article 85 of the Indian Constitution gives the president the power to convene and adjourn extraordinary sessions of Parliament; however, this power is exercised only on the advice of the prime minister and his council, so in practice the prime minister exercises some control over the affairs of Parliament.

Parliament House

Parliament House is where the Parliament (Sansad) of India meets. Located in New Delhi, the capital of India. It is is part of the Parliament House Estate, which also includes the Reception Office Building, the Sansadiya Gyanpeeth (Parliament Library Building), an annex to Parliament House, and extensive lawns. [Source: Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, 2017 |*|]

The Government of India Act 1919 prompted the need to construct a building to house the Central Legislative Assembly, which is also used to house the current Parliament. The building was designed by two architects — Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker — “who were responsible for the planning and construction of New Delhi.” According to the Parliament of India website,

The centre and focus of the building is the big circular edifice of the Central Hall. On the three axes, radiating from this centre are placed the three Chambers for Lok Sabha (the House of the People), Rajya Sabha (the Council of States) and the erstwhile Library Hall (formerly the Princes Chamber) and between them lie garden courts. Surrounding these three Chambers is a four storeyed circular structure providing accommodation for Ministers, Chairmen, Parliamentary Committees, Party Offices, important offices of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Secretariats and also the Offices of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.

Lok Sabha (House of the People)

The Lok Sabha (House of the People) is India’s lower house and the equivalent of House of Commons. It is the main legislative body in India. The prime minister of India is the person with the most seats on the Lok Saha. The Council of Ministers, which serves under the prime minister, is responsible to the Lok Sabha.

Lok Sabha has 545 seats — 543 members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote and 2 appointed by the president; members.The Constitution of India allows for a maximum of 550 members in the House, with 530 members representing the States and 20 representing the Union Territories. At present, the Lok Sabha has 543 seats filled by elected representatives. Representatives of the lower house serve a maximum of five years; most serve shorter terms. The total elective membership is distributed among the states in such a way that the ratio between the number of seats allotted to each state and the population of the state is, so far as practicable, the same for all states. [Source: Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, 2017 |*|]

The Lok Sabha in 1995 constitutionally had 545 seats. For a variety of reasons, elections are sometimes not held in all constitutiencies, leaving some seats vacant and giving the appearance of fewer seats in the lower house. A member must be at least twenty-five years of age. Two members are nominated by the president as representatives of the Anglo-Indian community, and the rest are popularly elected. Elections are held on a one-stage, "first-past-the-post" system, similar to that in the United States. As in the United States, candidates from larger parties are favored because each constituency elects only the candidate winning the most votes. In the context of multiple-candidate elections, most members of Parliament are elected with pluralities of the vote that amount to less than a majority. As a result, political parties can gain commanding positions in the Parliament without winning the support of a majority of the electorate. For instance, Congress has dominated Indian politics without ever winning a majority of votes in parliamentary elections. The best-ever Congress performance in parliamentary elections was in 1984 when Congress (I) won 48 percent of the vote and garnered 76 percent of the parliamentary seats. In the 1991 elections, Congress (I) won 37.6 percent of the vote and 42 percent of the seats. [Source: Library of Congress, 1995*]

The usual Lok Sabha term is five years. However, the president may dissolve the house and call for new elections should the government lose its majority in Parliament. Elections must be held within six months after Parliament is dissolved. The prime minister can choose electorally advantageous times to recommend the dissolution of Parliament to the president in an effort to maximize support in the next Parliament. The term of Parliament can be extended in yearly increments if an emergency has been proclaimed. This situation occurred in 1976 when Parliament was extended beyond its five-year term under the Emergency proclaimed the previous year. The constitution stipulates that the Lok Sabha must meet at least twice a year, and no more than six months can pass between sessions. The Lok Sabha customarily meets for three sessions a year. The Council of Ministers is responsible only to the Lok Sabha, and the authority to initiate financial legislation is vested exclusively in the Lok Sabha.*

Rajya Sabha (Council of States)

The Rajya Sabha (Council of States) is India’s upper house and the equivalent of the House of Lords. It has limited power and is comprised of 245 seats — 233 members indirectly elected by state and territorial assemblies by proportional representation vote and 12 members appointed by the president; members serve six-year terms, , with one-third up for election every two years. .

Rajya Sabha members must be at least thirty years old. The president nominates up to twelve members on the basis of their special knowledge or practical experience in fields such as literature, science, art, and social service. No further approval of these nominations is required by Parliament. Elections are staggered so that one-third of the members are elected every two years. The number of seats allocated to each state and territory is determined on the basis of relative population, except that smaller states and territories are awarded a larger share than their population justifies. [Source: Library of Congress, 1995*]

The Rajya Sabha meets in continuous session. It is not subject to dissolution as is the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha is designed to provide stability and continuity to the legislative process. Although considered the upper house, its authority in the legislative process is subordinate to that of the Lok Sabha.

Functions the Indian Parliament

Parliament's principal function is to pass laws on those matters that the constitution specifies to be within its jurisdiction. Among its constitutional powers are approval and removal of members of the Council of Ministers, amendment of the constitution, approval of central government finances, and delimitation of state and union territory boundaries.The president has a specific authority with respect to the function of the legislative branch. The president is authorized to convene Parliament and must give his assent to all parliamentary bills before they become law. The president is empowered to summon Parliament to meet, to address either house or both houses together, and to require attendance of all of its members. The president also may send messages to either house with respect to a pending bill or any other matter. The president addresses the first session of Parliament each year and must give assent to all provisions in bills passed. [Source: Library of Congress, 1995]

The main functions of Parliament are: 1) Legislative responsibility — To pass laws; 2) Oversight responsibility — To ensure that the executive (i.e. government) performs its duties satisfactorily; 3) Representative responsibility — To represent the views and aspirations of the people of their constituency in Parliament; and 4) “Power of the Purse” responsibility — To approve and oversee the revenues and expenditures proposed by the government [Source: Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, 2017 |*|]

According to political scientist and former secretary-general of the Lok Sabha, Subhash Kashyap, “[t]he two Houses of Parliament enjoy co-equal power and status in all spheres except in financial matters and in regard to the responsibility of the Council of Ministers, which are exclusively the domain of the Lok Sabha.” |*|

The Parliament of India shares its lawmaking function with twenty-nine state legislatures. Seven union territories also exist, which are governed directly by the Union (or central) government. The legislative powers of the Union Parliament are stipulated by the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, which stipulates a “Union list” on which Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction to legislate, and a “Concurrent list, ” which enumerates shared or overlapping competencies. |*|

Leaders in the Indian Parliament

Some of the important leadership roles in both houses of Parliament are the presiding officers (the speakers and deputy speakers), house leaders, and whips. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha presides over the sessions and regulates the day-to-day conduct and business of the house. The Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha are elected from among its members by “a simple majority of members present and voting in the House.” No specific qualifications are prescribed for being elected as Speaker; the Constitution only requires that the Speaker should be a member of the House. [Source: Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, 2017 |*|]

According to Introduction to the Constitution of India, the Speaker “is responsible for upholding the dignity and the privileges of the House. When a point of order is raised or any question involving the interpretation of the rules and the precedents of Lok Sabha is raised the Speaker has to interpret the rule and give his ruling.” The Speaker performs his or her functions in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha. Another task of the Speaker is to maintain parliamentary decorum and discipline under all circumstances. |*|

The presiding officers of the Rajya Sabha have the duty to conduct the proceedings of that house. The Vice-President of India is a presiding officer, serving as the ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. The body also elects a Deputy Chairman from among its members, “who takes care of the day-to-day working of the House.” The Vice-President is not a member of the Rajya Sabha and does not take part in the voting, except when there is a tie. The powers of the Vice President as a presiding officer include the authority to interpret the Constitution and rules of procedure relating to matters concerning the House, issue binding rulings, and maintain order and discipline in the House. Another important officer of each house is the Secretary-General, who functions as the “advisor to the Speaker, to the House and to the members on all parliamentary functions and activities and all matters of procedure and practice.”

In the Lok Sabha, the Leader of the House is the Prime Minister unless he or she is not a member of the House, in which case another minister may be nominated by the Prime Minister to function as the Leader of the House. Each House can also have a Leader of the Opposition. The Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977 defines the term “Leader of the Opposition” to mean that member of the Council of States or the House of the People, as the case may be, who is, for the time being, the Leader in that House of the party in opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength and recognised as such by the Chairman of the Council of States or the Speaker of the House of the People, as the case may be. |*|

However, to be a recognized party by the Speaker the party must have “one-tenth of the total number of members of the House” — which is fifty-five members. The current Lok Sabha does not have a Leader of the Opposition since the largest opposition party, the Congress Party, only has forty-four seats. |*|

Each party has a Chief Whip and Assistant Whips, depending on the number of members it has in the respective house. Of all the duties that are common to whips of all parties, by far the most important duties devolve upon the Government Whip. He or she is concerned with mapping out the time of the session, getting the Government’s program of business through, and arranging the business of the individual sittings. The Government Whip is also responsible for the orderly consideration of Government business. |*|

Committees in the India Parliament

In India, parliamentary committees are mainly of two types: ad hoc committees, and standing committees. According to the Parliament of India website, “[a]d hoc Committees are appointed for a specific purpose and they cease to exist when they finish the task assigned to them and submit a report.” The principal ad hoc Committees are the Select and Joint Committees on Bills, which are appointed to “consider and report on particular Bills.” Others, such as the Railway Convention Committee, the Committees on the Draft Five-Year Plans, and the Hindi Equivalents Committee, were appointed for specific purposes. [Source: Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, 2017 |*|]

Standing committees, on the other hand, “are permanent and regular committees which are constituted from time to time in pursuance of the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha.” The work of these committees is of a continuous nature. Committee members are elected by each house or nominated by the Speaker (or Chairman) “to consider and report on specific matters and become functus officio as soon they have completed their work on these matters.” Some standing committees include the Business Advisory Committee, the Committee on Petitions, the Committee of Privileges, and the Rules Committee. |*|

Another class of committees act as Parliament’s “watch dogs” over the executive. These are the Committees on Subordinate Legislation, the Committee on Government Assurances, the Committee on Estimates, the Committee on Public Accounts, and the Committee on Public Undertakings and Departmentally Related Standing Committees (DRSCs). |*|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Encyclopedia.com, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wall Street Journal, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated December 2023

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