Was the Vice-President’s action against two JD(U) MPs a case of speedy justice or a hasty decision?
Anti-defection law 1985
- The objective of the landmark anti-defection law of 1985 was to enhance the credibility of the country’s polity by addressing rampant party-hopping by elected representatives for personal and political considerations.
- While this enactment brought about some order in the system, some politicians found ways of circumventing it over the years.
A member of Parliament or the State legislature incurs disqualification if he either voluntarily gives up the membership of the party or votes or abstains from voting in his legislature, contrary to the direction (whip) of the party
The orders of the Chairman have established a benchmark, both in terms of speedy disposal (about three months) as well as the quality of the decisions. Since the anti-defection law came into place, there have been a large number of cases where proceedings have dragged on for years.
Committee of Privileges
A reading of the rules prescribed by the Rajya Sabha show that the Chairman is required either to proceed to determine the question himself or refer it to the committee of privileges for a preliminary inquiry. But reference to the committee is contingent upon the Chairman satisfying himself that it is necessary or expedient to do so; it is not mandatory. As a matter of fact, in several cases in the past, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, whenever “the circumstances of the case” so warranted, have “determined the question” themselves, without referring it to the committee
Facts of the cases
- In any case, in the interests of natural justice, the respondents were given adequate opportunity to present their arguments on the petitions filed against them. Apart from the written statements, the members were given the opportunity of personal hearing, which they availed. The cases were decided in a short period of three months, but not in a hurry.
- Period of around three months, of course, by giving an opportunity, as per law, to the concerned Members against whom there are allegations, which lead to their disqualification under the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution of India, so as to effectively thwart the evil of political defections, which if left uncurbed are likely to undermine the very foundations of our democracy and the principles which sustain it.”
- It is pertinent here to mention that the Chairman recalled that the then Law Minister, A.K. Sen, while piloting the bill in 1985 in the Lok Sabha had clearly stated that if defection was to be outlawed effectively “then we must choose a forum which will decide the matter fearlessly and expeditiously”.
What needs to be done?
Further, Rule 7(3) of the Members of Rajya Sabha (Disqualification on Grounds of Defection) Rules clearly stipulates that a member against whom the petition has been made, has to forward his comments to the chairman within seven days of the receipt of copy of the petition. The seven-day time clearly indicates the need for expeditious disposal of the petition.
Mr. Naidu’s orders assume significance in the context of instances where members have switched sides and became ministers in the governments, which are formed by parties against whom they contested and won.
Yet, no action was taken in such instances defeating the very objective of the anti-defection law. It is hoped that presiding officers of State legislatures will take the advice of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha in the right spirit.