Opinion – Indian ‘Speaker’ should emulate the British ‘Speaker’

The office of Speaker of Lok Sabha is a Constitutional authority and enjoys a great deal of powers along with a greater deal of responsibilities. The Speaker of Lok Sabha is elected by the members of Lok Sabha from amongst themselves. Convention has it that he/she is from the ruling political party. However, unlike the office of Speaker of House of Commons of the British Parliament, the Speaker of Lok Sabha continues to be a member of the political party from which he/she got elected into the House. This needs to be changed and the Constitution needs to be suitable amended so that after election as the Speaker of Lok Sabha, he/she must resign from the political party.

This is to ensure that the Speaker acts in an unbiased manner. Below are some examples where lack of such a provision led to foul play.

  • Defection – Many times it has been alleged that the Speaker who decides the question of disqualification over defection had acted in a biased manner. For example, the Speaker of Legislative Assembly of Bihar disqualified 4 MLAs on the grounds of defection for not voting in Rajya Sabha elections as per their political party’s choice. It was only after the Patna High Court’s intervention which had clarified that there is a difference between ‘defection’ and ‘dissent’, that their disqualification was cancelled.
  • Ensuring discipline in the House – the 15th Lok Sabha has been the most unproductive House since independence owing to the disruptions and lack of discipline among the elected representatives. The Speaker is empowered to initiate disciplinary action against the disrupting MPs, but had failed to do so. Thus the Speaker should be blamed to some extent for lack of discipline in the house.
  • Misuse of ‘Money Bill’ power – The Speaker has the power to decide if a bill is a money bill or not, and such a decision cannot be questioned in the court of law, or either house of Parliament or even by the President. Recently, in the budget session the government had included amendments to the RBI Act in a Finance Bill so as to circumvent the ‘obstructionism’ of Rajya Sabha, where the government is not in a majority. Although this was later withdrawn, it opens the scope for potential misuse of the Money Bill path in the future.
  • Conferring Leader of Opposition of Lok Sabha – This was denied to the Congress party by the Speaker on the grounds that the Leader of Opposition must belong to the political party with atleast 10% of seats in the house as per the “Directions to Speaker of Lok Sabha”, even though such a criteria was not included in the “Salaries and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act”. When the Speaker had a choice, she must have conferred the post instead of choosing to keep it vacant as it is an important post to keep a check on the government.

The above examples demonstrate the need to make the Speaker resign from the political party soon after being elected as the Speaker so as to ensure the smooth, fair and unbiased functioning of the office and, in turn, the House.

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