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West Bengal: Mamata Banerjee’s govt clears proposal to form a State Legislative Council. Here is why

Given that several party stalwarts such as incumbent Finance Minister Amit Mitra, Purnendu Bose couldn't be accommodated in the Vidhan Sabha, the decision to set up a Vidhan Parishad was thus finalised. CM Banerjee had herself lost to BJP's Suvendu Adhikari and needs to get elected within 6 months to retain her post.

On Monday, West Bengal Chief Minister announced that a Legislative Council (Vidhan Parishad) will be set up in the State. The decision was taken during a cabinet meeting, conducted via video conferencing, by the CM and several Departmental Secretaries.

As per reports, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) party has promised in its manifesto that a Legislative Council will be formed once it returns to power. Interestingly, Mamata Banerjee had earlier hinted that those who were not given tickets by the party would be nominated through the Legislative council. She had even vowed to give seats to those who were part of her campaign in Nandigram and Singur, after the 2011 Vidhan Sabha elections.

Given that several party stalwarts such as incumbent Finance Minister Amit Mitra, Purnendu Bose couldn’t be accommodated in the Vidhan Sabha, the decision to set up a Vidhan Parishad was thus finalised. The move is now being viewed as a strategy devised by Mamata Banerjee, who lost to her rival candidate Suvendu Adhikari, to bypass the election process. Only 6 states in India have a Legislative Council, namely, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka.

Challenges in setting up the State Legislative Council in West Bengal

It must be mentioned that a State Legislative Council existed in West Bengal from 1952 to 1969, before it was dissolved by the United Front Government. For the formation of the Council, a Bill needs to be tabled in the State Assembly. Such a Bill will require the Governor’s assent after it is passed by the Assembly. While speaking about the matter, Justice Chittatosh Mookerjee said that the Council was abolished by the Parliament through the West Bengal Legislative Council (Abolition) Act, 1969.

He informed that a Legislative Council can be formed if Article 169 of the Indian Constitution is followed along with the necessary constitutional amendment. He added that the Bill for the creation of Vidhan Parishad needs to be tabled before the Parliament and requires the President’s assent. Although Mamata Banerjee has directed the parliamentary affairs department to initiate the process, such a Bill is unlikely to go through Parliament due to the incumbent BJP government at the Centre.

According to advocate Subroto Mookerjee, the Vidhan Parishad must not have more than 1/3rd of the total seats in the Vidhan Sabha. As such, the Council can have a maximum of 98 seats. 1/3rd of the members will be elected by the MLAs, while another 1/3rd will be elected by the civic bodies, Zila Parishad, and other local bodies. There will also be provisions to nominate members to the Council by the government. Just like Rajya Sabha, a Chairman and a Vice-Chairman will be dominated. Members must be at least 30 years of age and will have a tenure of 6 years.

Mamata Banerjee lost to Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram

In a major turn of political fortunes, Mamata Banerjee lost to Suvendu Adhikari by a narrow margin in the latter’s bastion of Nandigram. Although she was sworn in as the Chief Minister of the State, Banerjee needs to win a seat in the by-polls within next 6 months. Failing to do so will lead to her dismissal from the post of the Chief Minister. In order to evade contesting polls after an embarassing defeat to Adhikari, she has now decided to form the Legislative council and bypass the electoral process.

Such a political stunt was earlier executed by the incumbent Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. Although a Legislative council was in place, prior to him being sworn in as CM, Thackeray retained his position by being elected unopposed to the State Legislative council. As such, he too did not have to face the people or contest elections. Mamata Banerjee has decided to follow in his footsteps, by going a step ahead and setting up a Legislative Council.

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Dibakar Dutta
Fascinated by Indian politics

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