In the Lok Sabha, the case of the missing deputy speaker
A petition has been filed in the Delhi High Court seeking its intervention in the matter of the election of the deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha. The Lok Sabha has not yet elected its deputy speaker. This appears to be the first such petition before a court of law on a matter exclusively within the domain of the Lok Sabha.
One can’t resist the temptation of taking the position that since the election of the deputy speaker is to be done exclusively by the members in the House, the court’s intervention is not permissible. But, on closer scrutiny, the election of the Speaker and the deputy speaker, though done by the House, is as per the mandate of the Constitution. It is not a routine government business of the House, decided by the Speaker in consultation with the leader of the House as indicated in Rule 25 of the House Rules.
Article 93 of the Constitution mandates that the House shall elect a Speaker and Deputy Speaker after the constitution of a new House, or after a vacancy arises in either of these offices. The above Article uses the words “As soon as may be”, which indicates that after the constitution of the House, whenever the new House meets, both the Speaker and deputy speaker are required to be elected.
The present Lok Sabha was constituted on May 24, 2019, and its first meeting was held on June 17. On June 19, the Speaker was elected. But even after two years and four months, a deputy speaker has not been elected. The normal practice has been to elect a deputy speaker the day after the Speaker’s election. This practice has been followed since 1952 with just one exception in 1998, when PM Sayeed was elected deputy speaker nine months after the election of the Speaker.
Thus, in the 70-year long history of independent India’s Parliament, the election of the deputy speaker has never been delayed for as long as 28 months.
The Speaker and the deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha and the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha are referred to as officers of Parliament in our Constitution. They are elected by the respective Houses. Their duties have been defined in the Constitution. The deputy speaker performs the duties of the Speaker when the office of the Speaker is vacant. He also acts as the speaker when the speaker is absent from any sitting of the House. When the deputy speaker performs the duties of the Speaker, he has all the powers and responsibilities of the latter. Similarly, when the deputy speaker acts as Speaker in the House, he assumes all the powers of the Speaker in the matter of regulating the proceedings of the House. His rulings in the House have the same status as those of the Speaker, and the Speaker cannot sit in appeal over his rulings.
The Constitution recognises the importance of the office of the deputy speaker. Therefore, the House cannot treat it as a post of no importance or redundant. The office of the deputy speaker had been an essential part of the central legislative assembly from 1921 onwards. Even in the constituent assembly, a deputy speaker (deputy president) was considered essential.
It is a moot point whether the issue of non-election of the deputy speaker can be judicially reviewed. If it is judicially reviewable, the court may have to issue a direction to the House to elect the deputy speaker. But the procedure laid down in Rule 8 of the Lok Sabha’s rules of procedure casts the entire responsibility for setting in motion the process for election of the deputy speaker on the Speaker. As per this rule, it is the Speaker who is to fix the date of election. In the case of election of Speaker, it is the President who fixes the date and, as is well know, the President does so on the advice of the Union council of ministers.
But the Speaker, constitutionally speaking, is not required to act on the advice of the council of ministers. He can independently fix the date of election of the deputy speaker. Thus, the whole question of election of deputy speaker hinges on whether the Speaker fixes date. When this is the case, if the court intervenes, it can issue a direction to the Speaker to fix the date of election.
As a matter of fact, the House is not absolutely helpless in the matter. It can adopt a resolution requesting the Speaker to fix the date for election of the deputy speaker. Such a resolution is admissible under the rules of the House (Rules 171 and 173). No party in the House can take a stand that the House does not need a deputy speaker because Article 93 mandates that the House shall elect a deputy speaker.
No one can also say that the House may postpone it further because the above article uses the words “as soon as may be”. It has already been delayed inordinately.
In any case, the Speaker can put an end to this controversy by fixing the date of election on his own. If he does so, the Constitution and the rules of the House will be on his side. That would be a graceful act rather than wait for the direction of the court.
PDT Achary is a former secretary general of the Lok Sabha
The views expressed are personal