No consensus on limiting Speaker’s powers

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    In News

    • The All-India Presiding Officers’ Conference (AIPOC) ended with the delegates failing to reach a consensus on whether the Speaker’s powers under the anti-defection law should be limited. 

    Major Highlights

    • C.P. Joshi committee: Report of the committee headed by Rajasthan Speaker C.P. Joshi to review the anti-defection law was placed before the presiding officers but there was no consensus on it.
      • The committee was formed in 2019 to examine the role of the Speaker in cases of disqualification on grounds of defection under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
    • The committee has advocated that the power to disqualify MPs and MLAs under the anti-defection law should also be given to political parties rather than limiting the power only for Lok Sabha and assembly speakers
    • Other Recommendations: There is a need to increase the number of sittings of legislative bodies. It will provide maximum time and opportunities to the members so that the people’s representatives can discuss the major issues of their State and country extensively.
      • There is a need for drastic changes to the functioning of Standing Committees, including changes to their rules.
      • Tradition of Zero Hour should be started in all State legislatures to give members the chance to raise urgent matters pertaining to their constituencies.
    • Need of a Single platform: the work of creating a single platform for all legislatures would be done by 2022.
      • PM’s vision of “one nation, one legislative platform” should be realised.

    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.

    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.

    SC directive on Anti-defection law

    • Kihoto Hollohan (1992) case: In Kihoto Hollohan (1992) case, the SC had upheld the validity of the anti-defection law and had also made the Speaker’s order subject to judicial review on limited grounds.
      • It had made it clear that the court’s jurisdiction would not come into play unless the Speaker passes an order, leaving no room for intervention prior to adjudication.
    • Rajendra Singh Rana case of 2007: In the Rajendra Singh Rana case of 2007, the constitution bench set aside the Uttar Pradesh Speaker’s order refusing to disqualify 13 BSP defectors on the grounds that he had failed to exercise his jurisdiction to decide whether they had attracted disqualification, while recognising a ‘split’ in the legislature party.
    • Manipur assembly case: In the recent Manipur assembly case, the court gave a deadline of four weeks to the Manipur Assembly Speaker to decide the disqualification question in a legislator’s case. 

    Source: TH