Insights into Editorial: Course correction for the Speaker’s office
Recently, the Supreme Court of India while adjudicating upon the matter relating to the disqualification of MLAs in the Manipur Legislative Assembly under the Tenth Schedule in Keisham Meghachandra Singh vs. the Hon’ble Speaker Manipur Legislative Assembly & Ors. made a significant suggestion. The office of the Speaker occupies a pivotal position in our parliamentary democracy. It has been said of the office of the Speaker that while the members of Parliament represent the individual constituencies, the Speaker represents the full authority of the House itself. She symbolises the dignity and power of the House over which she is presiding. Therefore, it is expected that the holder of this office of high dignity has to be one who can represent the House in all its manifestations. The responsibility entrusted to the Speaker is so onerous that she cannot afford to overlook any aspect of parliamentary life. Her actions come under close scrutiny in the House and are also widely reported in the mass media. With the televising of proceedings of Parliament, the small screen brings to millions of households in the country the day-to-day developments in the House making the Speaker’s task all the more important.
Importance of Speaker in Indian Democracy:
Article 95 and Article 180 deals with the Power of the Deputy Speaker or other person(s) to perform the duties of the office of or to act as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha/ Legislative Assembly.
- The Speaker is looked upon as the true guardian of the traditions of parliamentary democracy.
- Even though the Speaker speaks rarely in the House, when she does, she speaks for the House as a whole.
- Her unique position is illustrated by the fact that she is placed very high in the Warrant of Precedence in our country, standing next only to the President, the Vice-President and the Prime Minister.
- The Constitution of India provides that the Speaker’s salary and allowances are not to be voted by Parliament and are to be charged on the Consolidated Fund of India.
- The Speaker represents the House. He/she represents the dignity of the House, the freedom of the House and because the House represents the nation, in a particular way, the Speaker becomes a symbol of nation’s freedom and liberty.
- In India, through the Constitution of the land, through the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha and through the practices and conventions, adequate powers are vested in the office of the Speaker to help her in the smooth conduct of the parliamentary proceedings and for protecting the independence and impartiality of the office.
- Therefore, that should be an honoured position, a free position and should be occupied always by persons of outstanding ability and impartiality.
Upholding neutrality by the Speaker’s office:
- It is the freedom from interference and pressures which provide the necessary atmosphere where one can work with absolute commitment to the cause of neutrality as a constitutional value.
- Reference can be sought from the United Kingdom where the ‘main characteristic of the Speaker of the House of Commons is neutrality.
- In practice, once elected, the Speaker gives up all-partisan affiliation, as in other Parliaments of British tradition, but remains in office until retirement, even though the majority may change.
- She does not express any political views during debates and is an election candidate without any ticket, says an IPU report.
- In Ireland, parliamentary systems close to ours, the position of Speaker is given to someone who has built up credibility by relinquishing his or her political ambitions.
- Only the S. with its rigorous separation of powers between the judiciary, executive and legislature, allows the Speaker to openly engage in active politics.
- Offering future rewards for performance as a Speaker has made the position a stepping stone for political ambition Speaker rulings.
- At a time when India’s fall in ranks in the latest Democracy Index has evoked concern, it is expected that Parliament will pay heed to the reasoning of the Supreme Court and take steps to strengthen the institution of the Speaker.
Where the Problem lies in Indian Speaker’s office:
Since the electoral system and conventions in India have ‘not developed to ensure protection to the office, there are cogent reasons for Speakers to retain party membership.
A member is appointed to the office of the Speaker if a motion nominating her is carried in the House.
Elections are not always by consensus and there have been cases when different parties have fielded their own candidates. All political parties campaign in the constituency of the Speaker.
Even if the Speaker is re-elected to the House, the office of the Speaker in India is still open for elections’, according to a paper published by The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy.
Therefore, what is required is not merely incidental changes in the powers of the Speaker; rather a major revamp in the structure of the office itself is necessary.
It is suggested that a scheme should be brought wherein Speakers should renounce all political affiliations, membership and activity once they have been elected, both within the Assembly and in the country as a whole.
The office of the Speaker in India is a living and dynamic institution which deals with the actual needs and problems of Parliament in the performance of its functions. The Speaker is the constitutional and ceremonial head of the House.
She is the principal spokesperson of the House. It is in her that the responsibility of conducting the business of the House in a manner befitting the place of the institution in a representative democracy is invested.
The founding fathers of our Constitution had recognised the importance of this office in our democratic set-up.
It was this recognition that guided them in establishing this office as one of the prominent and dignified ones in the scheme of governance of the country.
Impartiality, fairness and autonomy in decision-making are the hallmarks of a robust institution.