Topic: A referee less partisan
Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2: Indian Governance
Earlier this month, the Speaker of the Karnataka Vidhan Sabha was embroiled in a controversy. The chief minister alleged that the Speaker was offered a bribe of Rs 50 crore. He played a tape which purportedly contains a conversation referring to money being offered to the Speaker for accepting the resignation of 15 MLAs. These allegations triggered a fresh political slugfest as any change in the number of MLAs in the Vidhan Sabha will destabilise the coalition government in Karnataka. The larger question this incident raises is of increasing politicisation of the office of the Speaker of legislatures.
More about on news:
- Speakers are central to the functioning of a legislature.
- They are arbiters who steer proceedings in Parliament and state assemblies.
- They ensure that our legislative institutions fulfil their constitutional mandate of lawmaking, government accountability and representation.
- For Speakers to do their job effectively, insulation from political pressure is essential.
- The passing of the anti-defection law in 1985 gave Speakers the power to expel MLAs and MPs for anti-party activities, both inside and outside the legislature. This law single-handedly ensured that the Speaker, in addition to being a referee in legislative proceedings, also became an active player in the politics of government formation and survival.
- Over the last three decades, Speakers of Vidhan Sabhas have been criticised for decisions on the membership of MLAs under the anti-defection law and their rulings have been challenged in courts.
- Often, political pressure to give certain rulings, or not to act in certain cases, has led to the undermining of their constitutional office.
Introduction about speaker:
- The office of the Speaker occupies a pivotal position in our parliamentary democracy.
- It has been said of the office of the Speaker that while the members of Parliament represent the individual constituencies, the Speaker represents the full authority of the House itself.
- The responsibility entrusted to the Speaker is so onerous that she cannot afford to overlook any aspect of parliamentary life.
- The Speaker is looked upon as the true guardian of the traditions of parliamentary democracy.
- Her unique position is illustrated by the fact that she is placed very high in the Warrant of Precedence in our country, standing next only to the President, the Vice-President and the Prime Minister.
- In India, through the Constitution of the land, through the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha and through the practices and conventions, adequate powers are vested in the office of the Speaker to help her in the smooth conduct of the parliamentary proceedings and for protecting the independence and impartiality of the office.
- The Constitution of India provides that the Speaker’s salary and allowances are not to be voted by Parliament and are to be charged on the Consolidated Fund of India.
Term of Office:
- The Speaker holds office from the date of her election till immediately before the first meeting of the Lok Sabha after the dissolution of the one to which she was elected.
- On the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, although the Speaker ceases to be a member of the House, she does not vacate her office.
- The Speaker may, at any time, resign from office by writing under her hand to the Deputy Speaker.
- The Speaker can be removed from office only on a resolution of the House passed by a majority of all the then members of the House.
- Such a resolution has to satisfy some conditions like: it should be specific with respect to the charges and it should not contain arguments, inferences, ironical expressions, imputations or defamatory statements, etc.
- It is also mandatory to give a minimum of 14 days’ notice of the intention to move the resolution.
Election of Speaker:
- In the Lok Sabha, the lower House of the Indian Parliament, both Presiding Officers—the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker- are elected from among its members by a simple majority of members present and voting in the House.
- As such, no specific qualifications are prescribed for being elected the Speaker.
- The Constitution only requires that Speaker should be a member of the House.
- The election of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha is an important event in the life of the House.
- One of the first acts of a newly constituted House is to elect the Speaker.
- Usually, a member belonging to the ruling party is elected the Speaker.
- This convention ensures that once elected, the Speaker enjoys the respect of all sections of the House.
- There are also instances when members not belonging to the ruling party or coalition were elected to the office of the Speaker.
- Once a decision on the candidate is taken, her name is normally proposed by the Prime Minister or the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs.
- If more than one notice is received, these are entered in the order of receipt.
- The Speaker pro term presides over the sitting in which the Speaker is elected, if it is a newly constituted House.
- If the election falls later in the life of a Lok Sabha the Deputy Speaker presides.
- The motions which are moved and duly seconded are put one by one in the order in which they are moved, and decided, if necessary, by division.
- If any motion is carried, the person presiding shall, without putting the latter motions, declare that the member proposed in the motion which has been carried has been chosen as the Speaker of the House.
- After the results are announced, the Speaker-elect is conducted to the Chair by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
Removal: The removal of the Speaker through a resolution of the Assembly requires 14 days’ notice, when a motion for his removal is discussed in the Assembly, the Speaker does not preside over the Assembly.
Powers and Functions:
- The important function of the Speaker is to preside over the sessions of the Legislative Assembly and to maintain order and discipline within the House.
- The Speaker does not take part in the debate and usually does not vote except to break a tie.
- When the Assembly meets, the Speaker calls the House to order, maintains discipline in the House.
- He sees whether there is necessary quorum.
- He may adjourn or suspend the sitting of the House if necessary quorum is not there, or to restore discipline.
- He may even suspend or expel members of the House for unruly behaviour.
Speaker and the Committees:
- The Committees of the House function under the overall direction of the Speaker.
- All such Committees are constituted by her or by the House. The Chairmen of all Parliamentary Committees are nominated by her.
- Any procedural problems in the functioning of the Committees are referred to her for directions.
- Committees like the Business Advisory Committee, the General Purposes Committee and the Rules Committee work directly under her Chairmanship.
Speaker and Inter-Parliamentary Relations;
- The Speaker has certain other functions to perform as the head of the Lok Sabha.
- She is the ex officio President of the Indian Parliamentary Group (IPG), set up in 1949, which functions as the National Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Main Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).
- In that capacity, members of various Indian Parliamentary Delegations going abroad are nominated by her after consulting the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
- Most often, the Speaker leads such Delegations.
- Besides, she is the Chairman of the Conference of Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies in India.
Speaker’s Administrative Role:
- The Speaker is the head of the Lok Sabha Secretariat which functions under her ultimate control and direction.
- The Speaker’s authority over the Secretariat staff of the House, its precincts and its security arrangements is supreme.
- All strangers, visitors and press correspondents are subject to her discipline and orders and any breach of order may be punished by means of exclusion from the precincts of the Parliament House or stoppage of admission tickets to the galleries for definite or indefinite period, or in more serious cases, dealt with as a contempt or breach of privilege.
- No alternation or addition can be made in the Parliament House and no new structure can be erected in the Parliament Estate without the Speaker’s permission.
- The easy way is to either limit or take away the Speaker’s powers when it comes to expelling legislators.
- This could be done by restricting the Speaker to only act against those legislators who defy the party whip while voting on matters that impact government stability. Or as some expert bodies have proposed, the Speaker’s powers in such cases can be given to the President/Governor, acting on the advice of the Election Commission.
- The hard solution is to get rid of the anti-defection law. It is a law which is systematically hollowing out our legislatures.
- It has failed in achieving its purpose of political stability.
- Its provisions have been circumvented and it has stifled voices of our elected legislators.
- Mahatma Gandhi, in 1931, observed that, “Democracy is a great institution and therefore it is liable to be greatly abused. The remedy, therefore, is not avoidance of democracy but reduction of the possibility of abuse to a minimum.”
- The anti-defection law was passed in 1985 right after the 38th death anniversary of the Mahatma.
- It is time to get rid of the anti-defection law to prevent it from doing any further damage to the office of the Speaker.
The office of the Speaker in India is a living and dynamic institution which deals with the actual needs and problems of Parliament in the performance of its functions. The Speaker is the constitutional and ceremonial head of the House. She is the principal spokesperson of the House. It is in her that the responsibility of conducting the business of the House in a manner befitting the place of the institution in a representative democracy is invested. The founding fathers of our Constitution had recognised the importance of this office in our democratic set-up and it was this recognition that guided them in establishing this office as one of the prominent and dignified ones in the scheme of governance of the country.
Critically examine the role of speaker in in parliament?