In the Indian parliamentary system, the role of presiding officers holds immense importance in maintaining the integrity and functionality of the legislative bodies. These presiding officers are governed by specific constitutional articles that outline their powers and responsibilities.
This discussion focuses on the roles and significance of these officers, as outlined in Article 178 (pertaining to the Legislative Assembly) and Article 182 (concerning the Legislative Council) of the Indian Constitution.
- Article 178: The Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly
- Article 182: The Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Legislative Council
The importance of presiding officers is particularly evident in scenarios like the Maharashtra party split and the question of MLAs’ disqualification. These officers play a pivotal role in addressing such political crises by upholding the principles of democracy and the rule of law.
Role of Presiding Officers in Maintaining Order and Impartiality:
- Maintaining Order and Decorum: Presiding officers are responsible for ensuring that the legislative assembly functions smoothly, maintaining decorum during debates and discussions.
- Final Interpreter of Provisions: They are the final authority in interpreting the provisions of the Indian Constitution, rules of procedure, and legislative precedents.
Example: In 2019, the Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly had to decide on the disqualification of rebel MLAs, demonstrating their interpretative authority.
- Decision on Money Bills: Presiding officers decide whether a proposed bill qualifies as a money bill or not, which impacts its passage and approval.
- Disqualification of Members: They have the authority to disqualify members on the grounds of defection, as per the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
Example: The disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs in the Delhi Legislative Assembly in 2018 for holding ‘office of profit.’
- Casting Vote: In cases of a tie vote, presiding officers cast the deciding vote, emphasizing their impartial role.
- Committee Appointments: Presiding officers appoint the chairpersons of all the committees within the assembly and supervise their functions, ensuring effective parliamentary oversight.
Role of Presiding Officers in Facilitating Best Democratic Practices:
- Adjournment and Quorum: They can adjourn or suspend proceedings in the absence of quorum, ensuring that legislative business occurs with the participation of a minimum number of members.
- Protection of Member Privileges: Presiding officers safeguard the privileges and rights of members, promoting free and fearless expression of opinions.
- Fair Time Distribution: They are responsible for allocating time fairly among various political parties, enabling equitable participation.
- Debates and Discussions: By facilitating debates and discussions on matters of public importance, they ensure that issues are thoroughly examined and deliberated.
- Non-Partisanship: Presiding officers are expected to maintain non-partisanship, treating all members equally and providing them with opportunities to express their views.
- Partisan Role: Critics argue that some presiding officers have been accused of favoring their own political parties, compromising their impartiality.
- Delayed Decision-Making: There have been instances where decisions regarding disqualifications were delayed, raising questions about the timely application of constitutional provisions.
- Misuse of Money Bill Route: Some presiding officers have been criticized for allowing certain bills to be passed as money bills when they may not have met the criteria, potentially bypassing legislative scrutiny.
The role of presiding officers in Indian legislative bodies is pivotal in maintaining democratic principles and ensuring the smooth functioning of parliamentary affairs. It is essential that they exercise their powers judiciously and impartially to uphold the integrity of the parliamentary system.
Judgments such as ‘Keisham Meghachandra Singh vs. the Hon’ble Speaker Manipur Legislative Assembly & Ors. (2020)’ have reaffirmed the importance of the Speaker’s impartiality.
Learning from international practices, India could explore adopting a system similar to Britain, where the presiding officer is strictly a non-party person, further enhancing the neutrality of the role and promoting democratic values.