The Chief Justice of India recently stressed the need to adhere to the court’s orders and expressed concern for the court’s dignity. This disappointment stemmed from the Maharashtra Assembly Speaker’s inaction regarding disqualification petitions pending since July 2022.
The Speaker, who serves as the presiding officer of the Lok Sabha at the Center and Legislative Assembly in the States, is expected to act impartially, but the institution’s performance in India over the years has left much to be desired. Comment. (15 marks, 250 words).
Origin and Evolution of the Office of the Speaker:
- The Speaker’s office originated in medieval Britain when the House of Commons required a representative in dealings with the King.
- Until the 17th century, the Speaker was often seen as a representative of the Crown.
- However, since the mid-19th century, the Speaker has been considered an impartial Chairman of the House of Commons, responsible for safeguarding the House’s rights, privileges, and those of its members.
The powers and functions of the Speaker in the Indian context and the challenges therein:
|Powers and Functions||Their misuse|
|In India, the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies elect a Speaker and Deputy Speaker, respectively, and these individuals play vital roles in certifying Money Bills and deciding on disqualifications due to defection.||The rules of these bodies also allow for member suspension for misconduct, a provision that is sometimes misused, particularly against opposition members. Recent incidents highlight the selective application of these rules, such as the unconstitutional suspension of 12 BJP MLAs in the Maharashtra Assembly in July 2021, later overturned by the Supreme Court.|
|Furthermore, Speakers have the authority to refer Bills to Parliamentary Standing Committees.||This power is not consistently exercised, impacting the effectiveness of parliamentary processes.|
|The power to determine defections is vested in the Speaker, who is expected to act impartially.||Some legal experts argue that this power should be given to an independent tribunal led by judges, as suggested in the Keisham Meghachandra Singh vs. The Honble Speaker Manipur (2020) case. The Maharashtra Assembly Speaker’s indictment also results from inaction in deciding disqualification petitions, despite court directives, and challenges have arisen regarding the certification of Bills as Money Bills by the Lok Sabha Speaker.|
|In Britain, once elected, the Speaker resigns from their political party to maintain impartiality while presiding over the House of Commons.||In India, the Tenth Schedule allows the Speaker to resign from their political party upon election, but this practice has never been followed.|
Given that Speakers are constitutional officials with specific privileges, the higher judiciary is limited in its authority when addressing matters related to Speakers. It is crucial that we embrace the practices seen in Britain to instill trust in the role of the Speaker. However, even before such changes are implemented, it is essential for Speakers to avoid any actions that could be seen as improper and instead exhibit a commitment to impartiality. It is now the time for Speakers to pledge to demonstrate impartiality in carrying out their duties, aligning with established democratic principles.