Anti-defection law: Speakers may discuss curtailing own powers
An upcoming meeting of presiding officers of Parliament and state assemblies may see a proposal to rejig legislative powers of speakers to better handle cases under the anti-defection law in the wake of recent controversies, according to people familiar with the matter.
The proposal, which will be discussed threadbare during the meeting in mid-January in Lucknow, may veer around a reduced role for the speaker of the House and state assemblies in cases related to defection after some assembly speakers pointed out how the chair in various assemblies has faced criticism in recent months.
Many of the assembly speakers suggested -- at a meeting of presiding officers in Dehradun earlier this month -- that the rules or laws be changed to reduce the speaker’s authority while dealing with such matters, according to a functionary aware of the matter who asked not to be named. “They think this is the best way to uphold the prestige of the post,” said the functionary.
The discussion was confirmed by Rajasthan Assembly speaker CP Joshi. “Earlier this month, we had a speakers conference in Dehradun, this topic was discussed too, and I have given my opinion on the same. However, being on the constituent post, I cannot express the same views in public,” Joshi told HT.
One of the changes that will be discussed in Lucknow will be empowering party presidents or floor leaders of different parties to have a greater say in anti-defection cases. Currently, speakers take the final call on defection issues and decide if a switch falls under the ambit of law or not.
A report on this issue is expected to be prepared by a group of assembly speakers ahead of the Lucknow meet, which is scheduled from January 16 to 18. In the Dehradun meeting, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and speakers in 18 state assemblies wanted amendments in India’s anti-defection laws in the wake of the recent controversies and judicial interventions. Several participants voiced pointed out loopholes that often cast a shadow on the speaker’s role.
Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said in Dehradun: “The way people are losing faith in democratic institutions and the way fingers are pointed at presiding officers of legislative bodies, it is a matter of concern. There is a need to amend the law to uphold the prestige of the institution of speaker.”
The discussion on the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution assumes importance in the wake of the Supreme Court’s observation last month about “a growing trend of Speakers of legislative bodies acting against the constitutional duty of being neutral”.
The Court made the observation while upholding the disqualification of 17 lawmakers, whose resignations in July toppled the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government in Karnataka and allowed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to return to power in the state. Sixteen of the 17 joined the ruling BJP and 13 of them were fielded in the bypolls in Karnataka this month after the court allowed them to contest the polls. Eleven the 13 were re-elected.
In Rajya Sabha, the Opposition parties have lost at least six lawmakers over the last four months after they resigned to allow the BJP to renominate them. Four of the six Telugu Desam Party lawmakers in Rajya Sabha switched sides in June and joined the BJP. They did not face disqualification since the anti-defection law allows two-third members of a party to break away.
Last month, A three-judge Supreme Court bench spoke at length about the role of a Speaker in its 109-page judgment but allowed the 17 rebel Karnataka MLAs to contest the December 5 bypolls. “In any case, there is a growing trend of Speakers acting against the constitutional duty of being neutral,” the court said.
“It is an important issue, but may take time to materialise...a clearer picture has to emerge with specific proposals of changes. In Lucknow, we will possibly come out with concrete suggestions,” said a Lok Sabha official requesting anonymity.