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Role of Speaker in India

Context:

There are numerous such instances in our polity where the Speaker of the Assembly has precipitated a political crisis by seemingly political decisions.

Instances:

  • In 1988, Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P.H. Pandian disqualified six senior AIADMK ministers for giving up their party membership, along with 27 other MLAs , identified with the pro-Jayalalithaa faction.
  • Sixteen MLAs in the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly were disqualified by the Speaker, Nabam Rebia, in 2016 despite not officially leaving the party or defying its directives.
  • Uttarakhand Assembly Speaker, Govind Singh Kunjwal, disqualified nine MLAs from the ruling party in 2016, despite the MLAs not leaving the Congress or voting against it in the Assembly.
  • Meghalaya Speaker, P.R. Kyndiah, suspended the voting rights and later even disqualified five MLAs in the 1990s, just prior to a non-confidence motion.
  • Until 1996, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha always belonged to the ruling party.
  • The election of P.A. Sangma of the Congress, on a unanimous basis, set another convention – with the Speaker belonging to a party other than the ruling party.
  • More recently, we have reversed track and moved back towards having the Speaker being from the ruling coalition.

Position of Indian Speaker in Indian Parliamentary system:

  • The office of the Speaker occupies a pivotal position in our parliamentary democracy.
  • The members of Parliament represent the individual constituencies, the Speaker
  • The Speaker is looked upon as the true guardian of the traditions of parliamentary democracy.
  • The speaker is placed very high in the Warrant of Precedence in our country, standing next only to the President, the Vice President and the Prime Minister.
  • In India, through the Constitution of the land, through the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha and through the practices and conventions, adequate powers are vested in the office of the Speaker to help her in the smooth conduct of the parliamentary proceedings and for protecting the independence and impartiality of the office.
  • The Constitution of India provides that the Speaker’s salary and allowances are not to be voted by Parliament and are to be charged on the Consolidated Fund of India.

Term of Office:

  • The Speaker holds office from the date of her election till immediately before the first meeting of the Lok Sabha after the dissolution of the one to which she was elected.
  • The Speaker is eligible for re-election
  • On the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, although the Speaker ceases to be a member of the House, she does not vacate her office.
  • The Speaker may, at any time, resign from office by writing under her hand to the Deputy Speaker.
  • The Speaker can be removed from office only on a resolution of the House passed by a majority of all the then members of the House.
  • It is also mandatory to give a minimum of 14 days’ notice of the intention to move the resolution.

Election of Speaker:

  • In the Lok Sabha, the lower House of the Indian Parliament, both Presiding Officers—the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker- are elected from among its members by a simple majority of members present and voting in the House.
  • As such, no specific qualifications are prescribed for being elected the Speaker. The Constitution only requires that Speaker should be a member of the House.
  • But an understanding of the Constitution and the laws of the country and the rules of procedure and conventions of Parliament is considered a major asset for the holder of the office of the Speaker.
  • Usually, a member belonging to the ruling party is elected the Speaker.
  • A healthy convention, however, has evolved over the years whereby the ruling party nominates its candidate after informal consultations with the Leaders of other Parties and Groups in the House.
  • There are also instances when members not belonging to the ruling party or coalition were elected to the office of the Speaker.
  • Once a decision on the candidate is taken, her name is normally proposed by the Prime Minister or the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. If more than one notice is received, these are entered in the order of receipt.
  • The Speaker pro term presides over the sitting in which the Speaker is elected, if it is a newly constituted House.
  • If the election falls later in the life of a Lok Sabha the Deputy Speaker presides.
  • After the results are announced, the Speaker-elect is conducted to the Chair by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Functions of Speaker:

Regulating the Business of the House:

  • The final authority for adopting rules for regulating is procedure rests with each House, but a perusal of the rules of the Indian Parliament would indicate that the Presiding Officer in the two Houses are given vast powers by the rules.
  • It is the Presiding Officer who decides the admissibility of a Question
  • With regard to moving amendments to a Bill, the permission of the Chair is required.
  • If a Bill is pending before the House, it is the Speaker who decides whether she should allow amendments to be moved to various clauses of the Bill or not.
  • As regards regulating discussions in the House, it is the Speaker who decides as to when a member shall speak and how long she shall speak.
  • A member who flouts her orders or directions may be named by the Speaker and in such cases; she may have to withdraw from the House.
  • The Speaker is the guardian of the rights and privileges of the House, its Committees and members.
  • It depends solely on the Speaker to refer any question of privilege to the Committee of Privileges for examination, investigation and report.
  • It is through speaker that the decisions of the House are communicated to outside individuals and authorities.
  • It is the Speaker who decides the form and manner in which the proceedings of the House is published.
  • The Speaker also issues warrants to execute the orders of the House, wherever necessary, and delivers reprimands on behalf of the House.
  • The entire Parliamentary Estate is under the authority of the Speaker.
  • When a decision of the House is to be ascertained on a motion made by a member, the question is put by the Speaker before the House to obtain the decision.
  • The Speaker also has certain residuary powers under the Rules of Procedure.
  • All matters which are not specifically provided under the rules and all questions relating to the working of the rules are regulated by her.
  • On matters regarding interpretation of constitutional provisions relating to the House or the Rules of Procedure, she often gives rulings which are respected by members and are binding in nature.
  • Under the Constitution, the Speaker enjoys a special position insofar as certain matters pertaining to the relations between the two Houses of Parliament are concerned.
  • She certifies Money Bills and decides finally what are money matters by reason of the Lok Sabha’s overriding powers in financial matters.
  • It is the Speaker of the Lok Sabha who presides over joint sittings called in the event of disagreement between the two Houses on a legislative measure.
  • As regards recognition of parliamentary parties it is the Speaker who lays down the necessary guidelines for such recognition.
  • It is she who decides on granting recognition to the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
  • Following the 52ndConstitution amendment, the Speaker is vested with the power relating to the disqualification of a member of the Lok Sabha on grounds of defection.
  • The Speaker makes obituary references in the House, formal references to important national and international events and the valedictory address at the conclusion of every Session of the Lok Sabha and also when the term of the House expires.

Global comparison:

  • In Ireland, parliamentary systems close to ours, the position of Speaker is given to someone who has built up credibility by relinquishing his or her political ambitions.
  • The Westminster system considers it a taboo to induct a Speaker into the cabinet.
  • Only the U.S. with its rigorous separation of powers between the judiciary, executive and legislature, allows the Speaker to openly engage in active politics. Offering future rewards for performance as a Speaker has made the position a stepping stone for political ambition Speaker rulings
  • No sitting Speaker of the House of Commons in Britain has lost his or her seat, given the convention not to field candidates in the Speaker’s constituency.
  • In India, there are many Speakers who have lost their seats in general elections.
  • Indian speakers are not made members of the Rajya Sabha after they demit office; the British Parliament automatically elevates the Speaker to the House of Lords.

Page Committee:

The page Committee, headed by V.S. Page, suggested that if the Speaker had conducted himself or herself in an impartial and efficient manner during the tenure of his or her office, he or she should be allowed to continue in the next Parliament.

Speaker and the Committees

  • The Committees of the House function under the overall direction of the Speaker. All such Committees are constituted by her or by the House.
  • The Chairmen of all Parliamentary Committees are nominated by her.
  • Any procedural problems in the functioning of the Committees are referred to her for directions.
  • Committees like the Business Advisory Committee, the General Purposes Committee and the Rules Committee work directly under her Chairmanship.

Independence and Impartiality:

The office of the Speaker is vested with great prestige, position, authority, independence and impartiality becomes its sine qua non.

The following  provisions ensure the independence and impartiality of the office of the Speaker:

  • He is provided with a security of tenure. He can be removed only by a resolution passed by the Lok Sabha by an absolute majority and not by an ordinary majority. This motion of removal can be considered  and discussed only when it has the support of at least 50 members.
  • His salaries and allowances are fixed by Parliament. They are charged on the Consolidated Fund of India and thus are not subject to the annual vote of Parliament.
  • His work and conduct cannot be discussed and critised in the Lok Sabha except on a substantive motion.
  • His powers of regulating procedure or conducting business or maintaining order in the House are not subject to the jurisdiction of any Court.
  • He cannot vote in the first instance. He can only exercise a casting vote in the event of a tie. This makes the position of Speaker impartial.
  • He is given a very high position in the order of precedence. He is placed at seventh rank , along with the Chief Justice of India .He has higher rank than all the cabinet ministers except the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister.
  • Under the Rules of Lok Sabha, the Speaker nominates from amongst the members a panel of not more than ten chairpersons.

Conclusion:

In a democracy like India, there should be neutrality in the Speaker.  Instances where the Speaker is named on a list of MPs who withdraw support from the government must be avoided, to prevent encroachment on the Speaker’s neutrality. We need to find ways to protect the Speaker from undue political pressure and incentives

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