Anti-Defection Law

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    In News

    The Goa Leader of Opposition is going to move a resolution for changes to anti-defection law.

    About

    • They are set to move a private member’s resolution during the next session of the Assembly to bring about necessary changes in the anti-defection law.

    Proposed Changes:

    • Cases to directly go to High Court or Supreme Court:
      • Such cases of defections go directly before the High Court or the Supreme Court for an express judgment.
      • The judgment should be given in a period of 60 days or something like that so that people come to know their fate immediately. 
    • In case of difference of opinion with Party:
      • If somebody has any difference of opinion with respect to the party or the party leadership, he has the option to resign and seek the fresh mandate of the people so that, once and for all, the matter is resolved,

    Anti Defection Law

    • Origin:
      • Aaya Ram Gaya Ram was a phrase that became popular in Indian politics after a Haryana MLA Gaya Lal changed his party thrice within the same day in 1967.  
      • The anti-defection law sought to prevent such political defections which may be due to reward of office or other similar considerations.
    • 10th Schedule:
      • Constitutional basis:
        • The Tenth Schedule was inserted in the Constitution in by 52nd Amendment Act, 1985
      • Lays down the Procedure:
        • It lays down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection by the Presiding Officer of a legislature based on a petition by any other member of the House. 
      • Condition of Defection: 
        • A legislator is deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily gives up the membership of his party or disobeys the directives of the party leadership on a vote. 
        • This implies that a legislator defying (abstaining or voting against) the party whip on any issue can lose his membership of the House.  
      • Applicable to: 
        • The law applies to both Parliament and state assemblies.
    • Exceptions in Law:
      • Legislators may change their party without the risk of disqualification in certain circumstances. 
      • The law allows a party to merge with or into another party provided that at least two-thirds of its legislators are in favour of the merger. 
        • In such a scenario, neither the members who decide to merge, nor the ones who stay with the original party will face disqualification.
    • Interpretation by Courts: The Supreme Court has interpreted different provisions of the law.
      • The phrase ‘Voluntarily gives up his membership’ has a wider connotation than resignation
        • The law provides for a member to be disqualified if he ‘voluntarily gives up his membership’. 
        • However, the Supreme Court has interpreted that in the absence of a formal resignation by the member, the giving up of membership can be inferred by his conduct.
      • In other judgments, members who have publicly expressed opposition to their party or support for another party were deemed to have resigned.
    • Decision of the Presiding Officer is subject to judicial review 
      • Initially it was not subject to Judicial Review:
        • The law initially stated that the decision of the Presiding Officer is not subject to judicial review. 
        • This condition was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1992, thereby allowing appeals against the Presiding Officer’s decision in the High Court and Supreme Court.
        • However, it held that there may not be any judicial intervention until the Presiding Officer gives his order.
    • It affects the ability of legislators to make decisions:
      • The anti-defection law seeks to provide a stable government by ensuring the legislators do not switch sides. 
      • However, this law also restricts a legislator from voting in line with his conscience, judgement and interests of his electorate. 
      • Such a situation impedes the oversight function of the legislature over the government, by ensuring that members vote based on the decisions taken by the party leadership, and not what their constituents would like them to vote for.

    Benefits

    • The law aims at providing stability to the Government by punishing members in case of any party shifts on their parts. 
    • Also, anti-defection laws try to bring about a sense of loyalty of the members towards their own party. 
    • This it tries to achieve by ensuring that the members selected in the name of the party and its support as well as the party manifesto remain loyal to the political party of which he is a member and its policies.

    Challenges

    • Time Limit for Presiding Officer:
      • The law does not specify a time-period for the Presiding Officer to decide on a disqualification plea. 
      • Given that courts can intervene only after the Presiding Officer has decided on the matter, the petitioner seeking disqualification has no option but to wait for this decision to be made.
      • There have been several cases where the Courts have expressed concern about the unnecessary delay in deciding such petitions. 
      • In some cases this delay in decision making has resulted in members, who have defected from their parties, continuing to be members of the House. 
      • There have also been instances where opposition members have been appointed ministers in the government while still retaining the membership of their original parties in the legislature.
    • Ambiguous Nature of Split: 
      • In recent years, opposition MLAs in some states, such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, have broken away in small groups gradually to join the ruling party. 
      • In some of these cases, more than 2/3rd of the opposition has defected to the ruling party.
      • In these scenarios, the MLAs were subject to disqualification while defecting to the ruling party in smaller groups.  
      • However, it is not clear if they will still face disqualification if the Presiding Officer makes a decision after more than 2/3rd of the opposition has defected to the ruling party. 
    • Defecting to party forming Government after election:
      • There have been instances wherein after the declaration of election results, winning candidates have resigned from their membership of the House as well as the party from which they got elected. 
      • Immediately, they have joined the political party which has formed the government and have again contested from that political party, which appears to be a fraud and goes against the spirit of the democracy and 52nd constitutional amendment.
    • Power to the Speaker:
      • One of the major criticisms of this power is that it is not necessary that the speaker has legal knowledge and expertise to look upon and perform such acts in such cases.
    • No Freedom to go against party whip
      • A political party acts as a dictator for its members who are not allowed to dissent. In this way it violates the principle of representative democracy wherein the members are forced to obey the high command.
    • Problem with merger provision: 
      • The provision tends to safeguard the members of a political party where the original political party merges with another party subject to the condition that at least two-third of the members of the legislature party concerned have agreed to such merger. 
      • The flaw seems to be that the exception is based on the number of members rather than the reason behind the defection.

    Views of some Committees on Anti-Defection Law

    • Dinesh Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms (1990)
      • Disqualification should be limited to cases where (a) a member voluntarily gives up the membership of his political party, (b) a member abstains from voting, or votes contrary to the party whip in a motion of vote of confidence or motion of no-confidence.
      • The issue of disqualification should be decided by the President/ Governor on the advice of the Election Commission.
    • Law Commission (170th Report, 1999)
      • Provisions which exempt splits and mergers from disqualification to be deleted.
      • Pre-poll electoral fronts should be treated as political parties under anti-defection law.
      • Political parties should limit issuance of whips to instances only when the government is in danger.
    • Election Commission
      • Decisions under the Tenth Schedule should be made by the President/ Governor on the binding advice of the Election Commission.
    • Constitution Review Commission (2002)
    • Defectors should be barred from holding public office or any remunerative political post for the duration of the remaining term.
    • The vote cast by a defector to topple a government should be treated as invalid.
    • Recommendations:
      • On Presiding Officer: Various expert committees have recommended that rather than the Presiding Officer, the decision to disqualify a member should be made by the President (in case of MPs) or the Governor (in case of MLAs) on the advice of the Election Commission.
      • Similar to Office of Profit: This would be similar to the process followed for disqualification in case the person holds an office of profit (i.e. the person holds an office under the central or state government which carries a remuneration, and has not been excluded in a list made by the legislature).

    Way Ahead

    • The introduction of the Tenth Schedule in the Indian Constitution was aimed at curbing political defections.
    • Though the law has succeeded in a reasonable way but due to some of its loopholes, it has not been able to achieve the best it can.

    International scenario on Anti Defection Law

    • Anti- defection law is not only practiced in India but it is prevalent in various other countries like Bangladesh, Kenya, South Africa, etc. 
    • Article 70 of the Bangladesh Constitution says a member shall vacate his seat if he resigns from or votes against the directions given by his party. The dispute is referred by the Speaker to the Election Commission.
    • Section 40 of the Kenyan Constitution states that a member who resigns from his party has to vacate his seat. The decision is by the Speaker, and the member may appeal to the High Court.
    • Article 46 of the Singapore Constitution says a member must vacate his seat if he resigns, or is expelled from his party. Article 48 states that Parliament decides on any question relating to the disqualification of a member.
    • Section 47 of the South African Constitution provides that a member loses membership of the Parliament if he ceases to be a member of the party that nominated him.

    Source: IE