Prelims: Position of Speaker in Britain, Role of the Speaker in India.
Mains: Importance of Speaker, Issues associated with the speaker.
Adversarial relations between the ruling party and the Opposition are inevitable in a democracy and, in a way, such relations that bring strong differences of opinion and contentious views to the fore are critical. Democracy flourishes when there is reconciliation through legislative debate. Yet, adversarial relations resulting in confrontation following the lack of discourse over differences on issues of public import, speak poorly of legislative conduct.
This holds true of Kerala, where legislative business has come to a standstill after a severe deterioration in relations between the ruling coalition and the Opposition.
What began as an issue of the Speaker repeatedly disallowing discussion on Rule 50 notices by the Opposition United Democratic Front last week has grown into a full-blown confrontation, with legal cases being filed against legislators after incidents that resulted in a ruckus in the Assembly.
Securing the neutrality of the Speaker is a question that experts in India have been grappling with for 60-plus years. A watchful Parliament forms the foundation of a well-functioning democracy. The presiding officers of Parliament are the key to securing the effectiveness of this institution. The MPs look to them to facilitate debate, protect their rights and uphold the dignity of Parliament.
The primary challenge before any Speaker is to conduct the proceedings of the Lok Sabha free from disruptions.
To do so, the Speaker will have to earn the trust of the Members of Parliament: One way to earn the trust of MPs will be by being neutral, both in practice and perception while running the House. Securing the neutrality of the Speaker is a question that experts in India have been grappling with for 60-plus years.
Why is the role of speaker so important?
- Securing the neutrality of the Speaker is a question that experts in India have been grappling with for 60-plus years. A watchful Parliament forms the foundation of a well-functioning democracy. The presiding officers of Parliament are the key to securing the effectiveness of this institution. The MPs look to them to facilitate debate, protect their rights and uphold the dignity of Parliament.
- The primary challenge before the any Speaker is to conduct the proceedings of the Lok Sabha free from disruptions. To do so, the Speaker will have to earn the trust of the Members of Parliament: One way to earn the trust of MPs will be by being neutral, both in practice and perception while running the House.
- Securing the neutrality of the Speaker is a question that experts in India have been grappling with for 60-plus years.
How is the position of Speaker in Britain?
- In Britain, the promise of continuity in office for many terms is used to ensure the Speaker’s impartiality.
- By convention, political parties (usually) do not field a candidate against the Speaker at the time of general elections. And the Speaker can continue in office, until deciding otherwise. By convention, the Speaker also gives up the membership of his/her political party.
What is the role of the Speaker in India?
In India, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) holds several powers like:
- Presiding Officer: The Speaker presides over the meetings of the Lok Sabha, maintains order and decorum in the House, and ensures that the proceedings are conducted in accordance with the rules and procedures.
- Decision-making: The Speaker decides on the admissibility of questions, motions, and amendments, and also decides on the allocation of time for discussions and debates.
- Committee Formation: The Speaker appoints the members and chairpersons of various parliamentary committees, such as the Committee on Public Accounts, the Committee on Estimates, and the Committee on Privileges.
- Casting Vote: In case of a tie during a voting, the Speaker has the power to cast the deciding vote.
- Disqualification of members: The Speaker has the power to disqualify a member of the Lok Sabha on the grounds of defection, misconduct, or violation of parliamentary rules.
- Maintenance of Order: The Speaker has the power to suspend or expel a member who violates the rules of the House or behaves in a disorderly manner.
- Parliamentary Affairs: The Speaker is responsible for the administration of the Lok Sabha, including the preparation of the annual budget, allocation of funds, and the recruitment of staff.
Hence we can see that the Speaker of the Lok Sabha plays a crucial role in ensuring the smooth functioning of the parliament and maintaining the integrity of the democratic process in India.
What are the mechanisms to ensure the neutrality of Speaker in India?
- His salaries and allowances are fixed by Parliament. They are charged on the Consolidated Fund of India
- His work and conduct cannot be discussed and criticised in the Lok Sabha except on a substantive motion.
- Powers of regulating procedure or conducting business or maintaining order in the House are not subject to the jurisdiction of any Court.
- Only exercise a casting vote in the event of a tie. This makes the position of Speaker impartial.
- He is given a very high position in the order of precedence. He is placed at seventh rank, along with the Chief Justice of India
Issues associated with speaker
- With no security in the continuity of office, the Speaker is dependent on his or her political party for re-election.
- This makes the Speaker susceptible to pulls and pressures from her/his political party in the conduct of the proceedings of the house.
- The persistence of allegations of prejudice can be attributed to the issue of partisanship resulting from the way the Speaker is appointed and the duration of their tenure.
- There has been a tradition of appointing the Speaker from the majority party and the Deputy Speaker from the opposition side, which has led to structural problems.
- There is no convention of Speakers relinquishing their party membership and hence they are often perceived as being partisan.
- It is common for Indian Speakers to have occupied ministerial roles shortly before or after their term. As a result, even if there is no evidence to substantiate such allegations, it is not unexpected for Speakers in India to be accused of partisanship.
- The challenge posed by coalitions is twofold.
- Firstly, the growing number of parties has led to a reduction in the amount of time each party has to articulate its interests during discussions.
- Secondly, there has been a decline in the frequency of annual sittings of Parliament/Legislatures.
- Rise in the number of political parties and varied political interest has made it harder for the Speaker to find consensus between members on use of disciplinary powers
- Unparliamentary conduct: Members seek to use unparliamentary means such as disruptions etc. for attaining the indulgence of the Speaker.
- The Anti-Defection Law assigns the responsibility of deciding whether a member should be disqualified to the Speaker, who has significant discretion. However, this discretion has often been exploited by the ruling party to eliminate dissenting voices.
- Determination of money bill: It has been criticised for certifying bills such as Aadhaar Bill etc. as Money Bill, though it may not have met the strict criteria laid out in the Constitution.
- The responsibility of the Speaker in dealing with defections, splits, and mergers should be assigned to an impartial entity such as the Election Commission or a neutral body outside the legislature.
- To ensure a smooth and uncontested re-election process, it is recommended to establish a tradition of re-electing the Speaker without any opposition.
- During parliamentary discussions and question hour, efforts should be made to allocate time to members based on party strength and also to accommodate those who wish to express diverse concerns or viewpoints.
- In order to enhance trust in the Speaker’s decision-making process, it is advisable to increase transparency by making the Speaker’s decisions publicly available.
- The reluctance of Speakers to take action against disorderly members could be mitigated if the media plays a constructive role in highlighting instances of misconduct and their negative impact on the House’s performance.