HISTORY OF WEST BENGAL LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY FROM 1861

Under the Indian Councils Act of 1861 a Legislative Council for Bengal was established by the Governor-General of India on the 18th January, 1862 with the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal and some nominated members. The first meeting of the Council was held on the 1st February, 1862 under the presidency of Sir John Peter Grant, Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. The Council used to hold its sittings at Belvedere, Calcutta (i.e., the residential palace of the then Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal) for the purpose, inter alia, of “considering projects of law”. The usual time of meeting of the Council was at 11 a.m. on each Saturday. The maximum number of members of this Council was only 12. In 1862 the first Rules of Procedure of the Bengal Council were framed and received assent of the Governor-General in Council. By the passing of subsequent Acts the number of members of the Council was increased and its powers and functions were gradually enlarged.
Under the Indian Councils Act of 1892, the maximum strength of membership of the Council was raised to 20 and of these 20 members, seven were to be elected. This Act also provided for the asking of questions and the discussion of the annual financial statement by the members.

Under the Indian Councils Act of 1909, the number of members of the Council was further raised to 50. It was provided that there must be a majority of non-official members in the Council, their number varying with the local conditions. Representation for minor interests and classes was also provided for through nominations. The members obtained the right to ask supplementary questions (confined to the original questioner only) and to discuss any matter of general public interest.

Under the Government of India Act of 1919, the Provincial Legislatures were given greater constitutional powers by enlarging the electorates and increasing the number of elected members in the Legislatures. The number of members of the Legislative Council was then raised to 125 of whom, it was provided, not more than twenty per cent should be official members and at least seventy per cent should be elected members. The Governor was given the power to nominate, for the purpose of any Bill introduced or proposed to be introduced in the Legislative Council, not more than two persons, having special knowledge or experience of the subject-matter of the Bill. The persons so nominated had, in relation to the Bill and for the period for which they were nominated, all the rights of members of the Council. The Act also provided for a President and a Deputy President of the Council. The President should until the expiration of a period of four years from the first meeting of the Council be a person appointed by the Governor and thereafter a member of the Council elected by the Council and approved by the Governor. The Deputy President should be a member of the Council elected by the Council and approved by the Governor. Consequently, the Governor who had so long presided over the meetings of the Council now ceased to be the Presiding Officer.

The Bengal Legislative Council constituted under the Act of 1919 was formally inaugurated on the first day of February, 1921 by His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught. Nawab Sir Samsul Huda was appointed its first non-official President (i.e., the Presiding Officer). The hour of meeting, which had hitherto been 11 a.m., was changed to 3 p.m. by a resolution moved in the House, on the 7th February, 1921 by Mr. R. M. Watson Smyth, a member of the Council representing the Bengal Chamber of Commerce. The venue of the sittings of the Council was fixed at the Town Hall, Calcutta, instead of at Belvedere, Calcutta. This venue for the sittings of the Council was, however, changed on the 9th February, 1931 from the Town Hall to its new building known as the ‘Legislative Building’ which was opened by the then Governor, Sir Francis Stanley Jackson, on the same date.

The foundation stone of the present ‘Legislative Building’ was laid on the 9th July, 1928 by Sir Francis Stanley Jackson, the then Governor of Bengal. Thereafter, construction of the building started and the present building came upon a plot of land measuring approximately 33 bighas within a very short period of 2 years and 7 months. Mr. J. Greaves was the Chief Architect of this magnificent building and the Martin & Company, Calcutta was entrusted with the construction work. The architecture of the building shows a mixture of oriental and occidental influences and the building resembles the English alphabet ‘H’.

Under the Government of India Act, 1935, two Chambers of the Bengal Legislature—a Legislative Council and a Legislative Assembly—were created. The life of the Assembly consisting of 250 members was fixed at five years unless sooner dissolved while the Council, with a membership of not less than 63 and not more than 65, was made a permanent body not subject to dissolution with the provision that one-third of the members should retire in every third year. The allocation of seats in the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council was as shown in the table below:

TABLE OF SEATS
Provincial Legislative Assembly Provincial Legislative Council
1. Total seats  .. 250 1. Total of seats—not less than 63 and not more than 65
2. General seats (including general seats reserved for Scheduled Castes: 30) .. 78 2. General seats .. 10
3. Mahammadan seats .. 117 3. Mahammadan seats .. 17
4. Anglo-Indian seats .. 3 4. European seats .. 3
5. European seats .. 11 5. Seats to be filled by Legislative Assembly .. 27
6. Indian Christian seats .. 2 6. Seats to be filled by Governor—not less than 6 and not more than 8
7. Seats for representatives of commerce, industry, mining and planning .. 19
8. Land-holders seats .. 5
9. University seats .. 2
10. Seats for representatives of labour .. 8
11. Seats for women .. 5
(i) General 2
(ii) Mahammadan 2
(iii) Anglo-Indian 1

Members were then allowed a monthly salary in addition to the allowances drawn by them earlier. The first sitting of the newly constituted Assembly was held on the 7th April 1937 on which dateSir Md. AzizulHaque was elected Speaker of the Assembly, Shri Satyendra Chandra Mitra was elected President of the Council on the 9th April, 1937. Both the Chambers of the Legislature, viz., the Assembly and the Council, got their own Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business adopted by the respective Houses in July, 1939 on the basis of the report and recommendations of the Rule-making Committee appointed earlier by the Houses for the purpose.
The Muslim League Party with the co-operation of the KrishakProja Party and a few other smaller groups in the Legislature formed the Government in Bengal in 1937 headed by Mr. A. K. Fazlul Huq while the Congress Party, which secured only 22 per cent of the total seats, acted as the main Opposition Party in the Assembly.
On the 1st December, 1941 Mr. Huq resigned owing to differences with his colleagues and on the 12th December, 1941 formed a new “Progressive Coalition” Cabinet consisting of his Muslim supporters and the Congress, Hindu Mahasabha and KrishakProja Parties. But on the 29th March, 1943, this Coalition Ministry met with its end at the resignation of Mr. A. K. FazlulHuq from the Premiership of Bengal. The Governor took over the administration of the Province on the 31st March, 1943 under section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, and invited Khwaja Sir Nazimuddin on the 20th April, 1943 to form a new Ministry to which request the latter agreed. On the 24th April, 1943 the Governor revoked the proclamation under section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, and on the 29th April, 1943 the new Ministry was formed with Khwaja Sir Nazimuddin as the Premier of Bengal.
On the 28th March, 1945, Mr. Nazimuddin’s Government was defeated in the Legislative Assembly, when the agricultural budget was rejected by 106:97 votes. On the 29th March, 1945, the then Speaker, Mr. Nausher Ali, ruled, inter alia, that refusal by the House of ‘Demand for Grant’ made by the Ministry for a major department was a censure on the Government and that he could not allow the existing Ministry to function as such in the Legislature, and adjourned the House sine die (Annexure I).
On the 30th March, 1945, both the Houses of the Legislature were prorogued by the Governor and on the 31st March, 1945 the Governor (Mr. R. G. Casey) assumed direct administration of the Province under section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935. The Assembly was subsequently dissolved.
The General Elections to the Provincial Legislature after its constitution in 1937 could not be held owing to the war. On the 21st August, 1945, Governor-General, Lord Wavell, announced that the elections both to the Central Legislative Assembly and in the Provinces would be held soon. The results of the polling in Bengal were out on the 1st April, 1946.
In the General Elections of 1946, out of total 250 seats in the Bengal Legislative Assembly, Muslim League won 114 seats and formed the Government headed by Mr. H. S. Suhrawardy on the 23rd April, 1946. The composition of the Bengal Legislative Assembly was as follows:

Muslim League-114, Congress-86, European-25, Independent Scheduled Castes-6, Independent Muslim-3, Communist-3, KrishakProja (Muslim)-3, Hindu Mahasabha-1, Independent Hindu-1, Others (including 2 Indian Christians)-8.

The new Ministry was sworn in on the 24th April, 1946. Mr. Nurul Amin and Mr. Tafazzal Ali were elected Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively in the first sitting of the Assembly on the 14th May, 1946.

By this time the British Government had made up their mind to transfer power to the Indian leaders and to partition India in accordance with the Mountbatten Plan. In Bengal, on the 20th June, 1947, the members of the Bengal Legislative Assembly divided into two groups—one including representatives of the predominantly Muslim areas and the other including representatives of the predominantly non-Muslim areas—met separately and also jointly as per the procedure laid down in paragraphs 5 to 8 of the statement made by the British Government on the 3rd June, 1947 on the subject of India (Transfer of Power). The members at the joint sitting (excluding European members) decided that the province of Bengal as a whole would join a new and a separate Constituent Assembly consisting of representatives of those areas which would decide not to participate in the existing Constituent Assembly. Members of the Muslim majority districts (other than Europeans) decided on divisions against partition of Bengal and in favour of joining a new and separate Constituent Assembly while the members of areas other than Muslim majority districts (excluding Europeans) decided on divisions in favour of partition of Bengal and framing the Constitution of separate Province consisting of the non-Muslim majority areas in the existing Constituent Assembly. As one of the aforesaid two groups decided in favour of partition, the Province, as per the statement made by the British Government, was partitioned into West Bengal and East Pakistan. With the passing of the Indian Independence Bill in July, 1947, two separate Dominions—India and Pakistan—came into being on the 15th day of August that year.
After Independence the Legislative Assembly of West Bengal met for the first time on the 21st November, 1947 and elected Shri I. D. Jalan and Shri AshutoshMallick its Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively. The number of members in the Assembly was 90, representing the constituencies that fell within the area of West Bengal. In addition there were two nominated members representing the Anglo-Indian community. The Congress Party formed the Government in the Province (as it was called then) under the leadership of Dr. P. C. Ghosh and the Opposition in the Assembly consisted of 23 members. But Dr. P. C. Ghosh having resigned, a new Congress Ministry was formed on the 23rd January, 1948 with Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy as the Premier. Under the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935 as adopted, the Bengal Legislative Council stood abolished. Under section 84(1) of the Government of India Act, 1935 as adopted, the Rules of Procedure as passed in 1939 were adopted for the new West Bengal Legislative Assembly.

As in the House of Commons, the first seat in the front row in the Treasury Bench used to be the traditional seat for the Leader of the House. Dr. P. C. Ghosh, the first Premier of West Bengal, occupied that seat. When Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy became the Premier he refused to abide by the tradition and took his seat at the Speaker’s end of the back row in the Treasury Bench as a mark of respect to Dr. Ghosh.

From the 26th January, 1950 the new Constitution of India came into force and under Article 382(1) of the said Constitution [now repealed by the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act, 1956] the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, which was functioning as the Legislature of the Province immediately before the commencement of the Constitution, became the sole House of the Legislature of the State of West Bengal exercising the powers and performing the duties conferred by the provisions of this Constitution on the Legislature of the State. It may, therefore, be noted here that this Assembly consisted of members who were originally elected in the General Elections held in 1946 before the transfer of power and they continued as such till the new House was constituted after the General Elections in 1952, under the new Constitution. The House first met under the new Constitution on the 3rd February, 1950 and the members of the Assembly, in order to mark the solemnity of the occasion, rose in their seats and remained standing in silence for two minutes. The peculiar feature was that the old House was not dissolved by any order of the Governor. It faded out and the new House faded in. The Rules of Procedure of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, which were in force before the commencement of the Constitution, were again adopted by the Speaker with necessary modifications in pursuance of the provisions of clause (2) of Article 208 of the Constitution. A “Farewell Address” was presented to His Excellency Dr. K. N. Katju, Governor of West Bengal, on the 31st October, 1951 by the Leader of the House, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy inside the Chamber on the eve of Dr. Katju relinquishing his charge of the Governorship of West Bengal. The agenda of the House was interrupted for a temporary period to accommodate this Programme.

After the General Elections in 1952, the new Assembly which was fully constituted on the 31st March, 1952, met for the first time under the new Constitution of India on the 18th June, 1952 and elected Shri Saila Kumar Mukherjee its first Speaker on the 20th June, 1952. The number of members of the Assembly was 240 including two members nominated by the Governor from the Anglo-Indian community under Article 333 of the Constitution of India. The Congress Party headed by Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy formed the Government in the State. The new Constitution again provided for a bicameral Legislature for West Bengal, i.e., the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council and hence after the General Elections in 1952 the Council which was a permanent body not subject to dissolution was constituted on the 5th June, 1952 with the members elected and nominated under the Constitution. The Council consisting of 51 members with Shri Bijoy Singh Nahar as the Acting Chairman held its first meeting on the 18th June, 1952 and elected Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterji as its first elected Chairman on the 19th June, 1952. It may be stated here that although the Legislative Council under the Government of India Act, 1935 had its own set of Rules of Procedure, the Acting Chairman of the Council had, under clause (2) of Article 208 of the Constitution, to adopt with necessary modifications the Rules of Procedure of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, which were in force before the commencement of the Constitution in the Legislature of the Province of West Bengal. The Council made its own Rules of Procedure under Article 208(1) of the Constitution afterwards and those rules came into force after the February-April session, 1961 of the Council.

It may be noted here that after the formation of the new Legislature under the Constitution, a Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was formed for the Legislature of West Bengal in pursuance of a resolution passed by the West Bengal Legislative Assembly on the 5th August, 1952 and by the West Bengal Legislative Council on the 6th August, 1952. In fact, there was a Bengal Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association since 1939 but after the partition of Bengal it did not function.

In May 1965, Bangla Congress was formed as a political party. In the general election 1967, candidates set up by Bangla Congress had contested with free Symbols. In the mid-term General Election to West Bengal Legislative Assembly held in the year 1969, the Election Commission recognised Bangla Congress as a State political party and had allotted symbol “Plough” for the candidates set up by Bangla Congress. On 25th January, 1971, the Election Commission issued a notification in pursuance of paragraph 17 of the Election (Symbols Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, and in supersession of the previous notification specified the names of National parties and State parties and the symbols respectively reserved for them and also the free symbols for each State. In table 2 of the said notification, Bangla Congress was mentioned as a State party with “plough” allotted as its symbol. In the Mid-term General Election to West Bengal Legislative Assembly held in March 1971, five of the candidates set up by Bangla Congress were elected. According to the petitioner the total number of valid votes polled by all the contesting candidates set up by Bangla Congress at the said general election held in 1971, was 6,86,358 which was about 5.18 per cent of the total votes polled. The Governor of West Bengal by an order under Article 174 of the Constitution dated 25th of June, 1971, dissolved the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. On 29th June, 1971, the President of India in exercise of the powers conferred on him by Article 356 of the Constitution, issued a proclamation assuming to himself all the functions of the Government of the State and all the powers vested in or exercisable by the Governor of the State as mentioned in the said proclamation.

On 12th January, 1972, the All India Radio, New Delhi, broadcast a News Bulletin that the Chief Election Commissioner had received a letter from the Central Government requesting him to hold elections to the West Bengal and Bihar State Assemblies along with the elections to the other State Assemblies. A.I.R.’s correspondent understood that in accordance with this request elections of the West Bengal and Bihar Assemblies would be held with other State Assemblies and steps were being taken by the Election Commission in this connection. On I3th January. 1972, the All India Radio broadcast another news bulletin that the time table for the forthcoming Assembly Elections for the different States had been finalised. There would be one day election in West Bengal and polling would be held on 11th March, 1972, Announcing the schedule, the Chief Election Commissioner had stated that in States where one day poll would be held, the Governors would issue notifications calling for election on 4th of February, nominations are to be filed by 11th and last date for withdrawal will be 14th February. On 22nd January, 1972, the Election Commission of India in pursuance of Sub-section (2) of Section 15 of the Representation of the People Act 1951, recommended the 4th of February, 1972 as the date on which may be published in the Official Gazette, a notification by which the Governor of West Bengal shall, as required by the said section, call upon for the purpose of constituting a new Legislative Assembly, all the Assembly Constituencies in the said State to elect members in accordance with provision of the Act and the Rules and Orders made thereunder. Thereafter on 4th February, 1972 the Governor of West Bengal issued a notification u/s 15(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1951. The Election Commission has also already issued notification u/s 30 of the Representation of the People Act 1951 appointing the last date for filing nominations, the date for the scrutiny of nomination and also for withdrawal for the candidates, the date on which the poll shall be taken and the dates before which the election shall be completed.

12lh West Bengal Legislative Assembly Election held on 2.5.96

Platinum Jubilee Celebration of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly has been celebrated on 15th August 2012.

Advertisements