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No consensus on limiting Speaker’s powers

Context:

The All-India Presiding Officers’ Conference (AIPOC) ended with the delegates failing to reach a consensus on whether the Speaker’s powers under the anti-defection law should be limited.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Legislature)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Speaker of Lok Sabha
  2. Powers and Duties of the Lok Sabha Speaker
  3. Anti-Defection law and concerns over the misuse of Speaker’s powers
  4. Highlights of the All-India Presiding Officers’ Conference (AIPOC)

Speaker of Lok Sabha

  • The Speaker is the head of the Lok Sabha (Or the Legislative Assemblies of the States), and its representative and his/her decision in any Parliamentary matter is final.
  • He is the guardian of powers and privileges of the members, apart from being the principal spokesman of the House.
  • Usually, a member belonging to the ruling party is elected Speaker. The process has evolved over the years where the ruling party nominates its candidate after informal consultations with leaders of other parties and groups in the House.
  • This convention ensures that once elected, the Speaker enjoys the respect of all sections of the House.
  • The Speaker of the Lok Sabha derives his powers and duties from three sources:
    1. the Constitution of India,
    2. the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of Lok Sabha
    3. the parliamentary precedents, within the House.

Powers and Duties of the Lok Sabha Speaker

  • He maintains order and decorum in the House for conducting its business and regulating its proceedings. This is his primary responsibility and he has final power in this regard.
  • He is the final interpreter of the provisions of
    1. the Constitution of India,
    2. the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of Lok Sabha
    3. the parliamentary precedents, within the House.
  • He adjourns the House or suspends the meeting in absence of a quorum. The quorum to constitute a meeting of the House is one-tenth of the total strength of the House.
  • He does not vote in the first instance. But he can exercise a casting vote in the case of a tie. In other words, only when the House is divided equally on any question, the Speaker is entitled to vote. Such vote is called casting vote, and its purpose is to resolve a deadlock.
  • He presides over a joint setting of the two Houses of Parliament. Such a sitting is summoned by the President to settle a deadlock between the two Houses on a bill.
  • He can allow a ‘secret’ sitting of the House at the request of the Leader of the House. When the House sits in secret, no stranger can be present in the chamber, lobby or galleries except with the permission of the Speaker.
  • He decides whether a bill is a money bill or not and his decision on this question is final. When a money bill is transmitted to the Rajya Sabha for recommendation and presented to the President for assent, the Speaker endorses on the bill his certificate that it is a money bill.
  • He decides the questions of disqualification of a member of the Lok Sabha, arising on the ground of defection under the provisions of the Tenth Schedule. In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that the decision of the Speaker in this regard is subject to judicial review.
  • He acts as the ex-officio chairman of the Indian Parliamentary Group which acts as a link between the Parliament of India and the various parliaments of the world. He also acts as the ex-officio chairman of the conference of presiding officers of legislative bodies in the country.
  • He appoints the chairman of all the parliamentary committees of the Lok Sabha and supervises their functioning. He himself is the chairman of the Business Advisory Committee, the Rules Committee and the General-Purpose Committee.

Anti-Defection law and concerns over the misuse of Speaker’s powers

  • The Anti-Defection Law was passed in 1985 through the 52nd Amendment to the Constitution. It added the Tenth Schedule to the Indian Constitution.
  • Any question regarding disqualification arising out of defection is to be decided by the presiding officer of the House.
  • The office of Speaker has been criticised time and again for being an agent of partisan politics especially in the context of power for the disqualification. The Speakers who are expected to maintain political neutrality have been criticized for taking actions favourable to the ruling governments and helping them maintain a majority in the legislature by the misuse of powers under the anti-defection law.
  • The Supreme Court too while looking into the issue of Speaker’s powers had questioned, “why a Speaker – who is a member of a particular political party and an insider in the House, should be the sole and final arbiter in the cases of disqualification of a political defector”. The Supreme Court has also held that the decision of the presiding officer is not final and can be questioned in any court. It is subject to judicial review on the grounds of malafide, perversity, etc.

Proceedings at the All-India Presiding Officers’ Conference (AIPOC)

  • Amid increasing instances of disruptions of the house proceedings, a resolution stating that there should be no disruptions during Question Hour and the President’s and Governor’s address to the House was adopted during the meet.
  • The Lok Sabha Speaker reiterated the need to increase the number of sittings of legislative bodies. He has called for a definite action plan in this direction to ensure that the people’s representatives have sufficient time to discuss major issues of their State and country.
  • The Speaker also called for drastic changes to the functioning of Standing Committees, including changes to their rules. He suggested that the presiding officers should hold annual evaluations of the committee working to make them more accountable.
  • The Lok Sabha Speaker also suggested that the tradition of Zero Hour should be started in all State legislatures to give members the chance to raise urgent matters pertaining to their constituencies.
  • Though the report on reviewing the anti-defection law was placed before the delegates, they failed to reach a consensus on whether the Speaker’s powers under the anti-defection law should be limited.
  • The report was prepared by the committee formed in 2019 to examine the role of the Speaker in cases of disqualification on grounds of defection.

-Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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