Reimagining the Role of the Speaker: A Call for Impartiality

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In a recent address, the Chief Justice of India expressed concern over the Maharashtra Assembly Speaker’s inaction regarding the disqualification petitions pending since July 2022. This incident brings into spotlight the increasing challenges surrounding the impartiality and integrity of the role of the Speaker, especially in the Indian legislative context.

This topic of “Reimagining the Role of the Speaker: A Call for Impartiality” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Historical Evolution of the Speaker’s Office

  • Origin in Britain:
    • The Speaker’s office emerged in medieval Britain as a representative for the House of Commons when interacting with the King.
    • Initially perceived as the Crown’s agent until the 17th century.
    • From the mid-19th century onwards, recognized as an impartial Chairman of the House of Commons.
    • Custodians of the rights and privileges of the House, its members, and its committees.

Speaker’s Role in India

  • Constitutional Provisions:
    • The Indian Constitution mandates the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies to elect the Speaker and Deputy Speaker from their members.
    • Key functions include certifying a Bill as a Money Bill and deciding on disqualifications under the Tenth Schedule related to defections.
  • Misuse of Powers:
    • Rules of conduct allow for suspension of members for misconduct. However, there have been allegations of these provisions being used disproportionately against opposition members.
    • Notable cases: Suspension of Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and the suspension of 12 BJP MLAs by the Maharashtra Assembly, which was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
    • Less than 25% of bills were referred to committees between 2014-2023, down from 60% between 2004-2014.

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Challenges with Impartiality

  • Deciding on Disqualifications:
    • The Speaker has the authority to decide on disqualifications under the Tenth Schedule.
    • Accusations of bias, with Speakers often seen as favoring the ruling party.
    • Supreme Court judgments have voiced concerns:
      • Minority opinion in Kihoto Hollohan (1992) argued that vesting disqualification powers with the Speaker undermines democratic principles.
      • In Keisham Meghachandra Singh vs The Honble Speaker Manipur (2020), the Court suggested that an independent tribunal, led by judges, should decide on such matters.
  • Certification of Money Bills:
    • Recent challenges in courts against the Speaker of the Lok Sabha’s certification of certain bills as Money Bills.

Comparison with Global Practices

  • Britain’s Impartiality Model:
    • In Britain, upon election, the Speaker resigns from their political party.
    • Seeks re-election not as a party member but as the “Speaker seeking re-election” to emphasize impartiality.
  • Indian Practice:
    • The Tenth Schedule of the Indian Constitution allows the Speaker to resign from their political party after being elected.

Way Forward

  • Adopting International Practices:
    • Drawing inspiration from Britain to strengthen the impartiality of the Speaker’s office in India.
    • Implementing the model where the Speaker seeks re-election as an impartial figure, not associated with any political party, can help ensure unbiased functioning.
  • Emphasizing Impartiality:
    • It is crucial for Speakers to avoid impropriety in their roles and exhibit neutrality.
    • Taking a vow or commitment towards upholding democratic values and practices can reaffirm the Speaker’s commitment to impartiality.

Practice Question for Mains:
Examine the evolving role of the Speaker in the Indian legislative setup. Discuss the challenges in ensuring impartiality and suggest measures to enhance the integrity of the position in line with global best practices. (250 words)

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