M: 116

Position of Speaker Under Constitution of India

Introduction:

On Tuesday, 21st January,2020, the Supreme Court asked the parliament to strip off the powers of the speakers of parliament to decide whether members of parliament can be disqualified under the anti- defection law or not. Once again, the court decided to discuss the issue of sliding away the disqualification power under the Tenth Schedule from Speakers. In return, an independent tribunal was suggested to be appointed to decide on disqualification of defective MPs or MLAs.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman, in a 31-page judgment put forth a query as to why a Speaker, who himself is a member of a particular political party and also an insider in the House, should be the “ultimate arbiter” in the disqualification of a defective member. It was scrutinized as to why disqualification proceedings under the anti-defection law should be kept in-house and not be authorized to an “external” authority.

Responding to this, the court said the Speakers should decide the disqualifications within a “reasonable period” which would depend on the facts of each case. Unless, under “exceptional circumstances”, this reasonable period would be three months. 

This judgment was a result of the appeal filed by Congress legislator Keisham Meghchandra Singh against the Manipur Assembly Speaker for the disqualification of Minister T. Shyamkumar, who after contesting in the Congress ticket, switched sides to favor the BJP. The decision period granted for this petition was four weeks. [1]

Who is a speaker and the Constitutional position of the speaker:

 Following the Westminster model, the parliamentary proceedings in the country is governed and headed by a presiding officer who is referred to as the speaker. The first prime minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, believed and stated that in a parliamentary democracy, the speaker represents the dignity and freedom of the house and since the house symbolizes the country, the speaker, consequently, becomes the symbol of the country’s freedom and liberty. The speaker enjoys a position of great respect and dignity. The speaker heads the parliament and is responsible for smooth functioning of the house. The Lok Sabha chooses it’s speaker and thus they are the representatives of the house and manages it’s smooth functioning.  In Rajya Sabha, however, the vice president acts as the speaker or the presiding officer. A speaker’s decisions are final and binding and cannot be challenged further. The Speaker is, in every sense, considered the true guardian of the Indian Parliamentary democracy. 

Administrative role, Powers and responsibilities of a lok sabha speaker:

The speaker is the head of the lok sabha secretariat. He has the authority over the members of the house. His decisions and orders are supreme and binding and cannot be subjected to criticism or objection. Also, the speaker’s permission is mandatorily needed for any addition or modification in the parliamentary system. The speaker also decides how the procedure and manner of the proceedings of the house are going to be.   

Under the constitution of India, a speaker is vested with immense administrative and discretionary powers, some of which are:

  • The speaker presides over the meetings and the business in the and ensures discipline and maintains decorum amongst the members.
  • The speaker determines and ensures the rights and privileges of the members of the lok sabha.
  • A speaker resolves a deadlock by using his power to vote, which means the speaker only votes when both the sides receives equal votes and his vote resolves the confusion.
  • The speaker has the power to interpret the rules of procedure. He has the authority to punish faulty MPs for their malafide behavior. A Speaker also has the authority to disqualify a faulty Member of Parliament on grounds of defection.
  • The jurisdiction of a speaker contains various committees like rules committee, Business Advisory Committee and the General Purposes Committee. The Speaker nominates the various Chairmen to these Committees and also monitors the working of the committees.
  • The speakers also act as the final arbiter and interpreter of necessary provisions. The decision of the speaker is final and binding and cannot be challenged or criticized.
  • The Speaker also grants recognition to the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
  • The speaker has absolute powers to decide whether a bill can be classified as a money bill, once it’s transmitted from the lower house to the upper house.

Other important responsibilities of a speaker:

  • The form of any amendment is at the discretion of the speaker, before moving it forward to the president.
  • It depends solely on the Speaker to refer any question of privilege to the Committee of Privileges for examination, investigation and report.
  • The speaker’s approval and permission is necessary in case of amendment of a bill.
  • The speaker is authorized to make obituary references in the house.
  • He is also authorized to make formal references regarding essential national as well as international events. [2]

Landmark judgments of Supreme Court regarding speakers:

According to Article 110(3), If a question regarding classification of a Bill as a Money Bill arises, the decision of the Speaker of the House shall be final.” Additionally, Article 122 prohibits courts from scrutinizing into proceedings of Parliament and verifying their validity. ”. Article 212 and which is analogous to Article 122 for Parliament, applies to State legislatures

Considering these two Articles, does Supreme Court has authority to challenge the decision of the speaker?

In 2014, The Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly passed a Bill to amend the Uttar Pradesh Lokayukta and Up-Lokayuktas Act as a Money Bill. This act was challenged in the case of   Mohd. Saeed Siddiqui v State of U.P. it was held that the decision of the speaker to classify the bill as a money bill was final and it cannot be challenged by virtue of Article 212.

Another power of speaker is evident in cases of defection. The tenth schedule of the Indian constitution, popularly known as the anti defection act aims at removing evils of political defections. The speaker has the authority to decide in such cases. The tenth schedule was challenged in the court of law in the case of Kihoto Hollohan vs. Zachilhu and others. It was held that this law does not violate any rights, freedom or the basic structure of the parliament. It also held that the decision is not subjected to any judicial intervention until the presiding officer or the speaker gives his final decision.

Another landmark case of Raja Ram Pal vs. Honb’le speaker of the lok sabha led Supreme court to examine its power of review under article 122 and 212. The case revolved around some members of parliament who were found to have taken cash to ask questions in the parliament and concerned their expulsion. The court said: “The proceedings which may be tainted on account of substantive illegality or unconstitutionality, as opposed to those suffering from mere irregularity thus cannot be held protected from judicial scrutiny by Article 122.”  [3]

Conclusion:

The speaker of the parliament is an extremely renowned position filled with tremendous powers, dignity and respect. A speaker has immense powers to take decisions regarding different matters. This article dealt with the power of the speaker to decide in matters of disqualifications of defaulter members of the parliament. The supreme power of the speaker has been subjected to challenges few times on the grounds of partiality claiming that they are themselves part of a particular political party. However, various landmark judgments have time and again proved that speakers have absolute powers of such disqualification provided they do not spare the illegal acts of any parliamentary member.


[1] KRISHNADAS RAJAGOPAL, SC again highlights taking away disqualification power from Speakers

, THEHINDU (Jan 21, 2020, 4:55pm) https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sc-asks-parliament-to-rethink-powers-of-the-speaker-in-disqualification-of-ministers/article30615269.ece

[2] https://www.drishtiias.com/loksabha-rajyasabha-discussions/in-depth-speaker-roles-and-responsibility

[3] M.R. MADHAVAN, The power to certify, THEHINDU (May 16 2016 12:27 am) https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/aadhar-bill-the-power-tocertify/article8604009.ece