How can we guarantee the Speaker’s impartiality?

Source: Indian Express

 Relevance: To understand the role of the speaker in the functioning of the Indian parliament.

Synopsis: Either allow Parliament and state legislatures to descend into terminal decline or make the Speaker truly independent and let every legislature perform its constitutional function

Introduction

The main reason behind declining in the functioning of Parliament & State assemblies is the lack of independence and impartiality of the speaker

Features of Indian Constitution
  • India adopted Westminster’s model of governance.
  • Members of Parliament enjoy the same powers as that of the House of Commons.
  • Speaker is the supreme authority in Lok Sabha (LS) like in the United Kingdom.

 Role of Speaker

  1. Being the supreme authority, his primary duty is to ensure the orderly conduct of the business of the House.
  2. There are two essential qualities of the office of Speaker: Independence and impartiality
  3. Speaker has the power to decide what issues will be taken up for discussion
  4. He has the sole discretion to permit an adjournment motion or calling attention notice if the issue is of urgent public importance.

In the words of:

  • V Mavalankar “Once a person is elected Speaker, he is expected to be above parties, above politics
  • Pandit Nehru referred to the Speaker as “the symbol of the nation’s freedom and liberty” and emphasized that Speakers should be men of “outstanding ability and impartiality”
  • MN Kaul and SL Shakdher, in their book “Practice and Procedure of Parliament” refer the Speaker as the conscience and guardian of the House.

Why the position of the speaker is under question

In various judgement of Supreme Court on Anti Defection, the court pointed out the main cause for the partisan role of speakers in assemblies. The main reason behind that is speaker belongs to the active ruling party. This result in the frequent disruptions of the House.

Impact of frequent disruptions of house

  1. It not only impacts the prestige of the house but also stalls the primary function of the legislature: to make laws for the good governance of the country with proper debates and discussions.
  2. Frequent disruptions lead to the passing of bills without much discussion. For e.g. in the present session, not a single bill was referred to any Parliamentary committee – as highlighted by Chief Justice of India.
  3. Another consequence is delegated legislation empowers the executive and bureaucracy. E.g. power of retrospective notification given to the executive.
Suggestions

Separation of power is the basic structure of the Indian constitution. If that ceases to exist, our foundation of democracy will get weaker.

It is therefore suggested that the speaker of every legislature should resign from his political party to honour the constitutional obligation of impartiality & independence. For instance, in 1967, late N Sanjiva Reddy resigned from his party when he became the Speaker.

Read more: Functioning of Parliament: Challenges and way forward – Explained, pointwise
Way forward

If the office of the speaker is not made impartial, it will lead to the decline of Parliament. So, there is an urgent need for course correction.

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