Speaker's role too under scanner
While the Supreme Court has shed much light on some grey areas about a Governor’s powers, it has also raised several fundamental questions about a Speaker’s role. The apex court’s constitutiol bench in its historic order reinstating the Congress government in Aruchal Pradesh, has made it clear that the Governor cannot direct the Speaker as to how assembly proceedings should be conducted, or fix the agenda for the House. Under Article 179 of the Constitution, the Governor has no role whatsoever in removal of the Speaker or deputy Speaker; this is a matter that can be determined by the legislators only. If the resolution for the Speaker’s removal is supported by a simple majority of the members of the House, the motion has to be adopted and the Speaker removed. But what about a Speaker going about disqualifying legislators under the anti-defection law as specified in the Tenth schedule? According to the Supreme Court, this is not a matter that should disturb a Governor, as he simply has no role therein. The Governor must keep away from all that goes on within the House; the legitimacy or illegitimacy of such disqualification proceedings are beyond his ken. But what if a Speaker is using the anti-defection law against legislators, when a resolution seeking his own removal is pending before the House? After all, this is what happened in Aruchal, it was the real basis of the Governor’s December 9 order — a fact noted in the apex court ruling.
Going into this ticklish issue, the SC constitutiol bench has held that it will be ‘constitutiolly impermissible’ and ‘unfair’ for a Speaker to adjudicate upon disqualification petitions under the Tenth Schedule, while a resolution for his own removal from the office of Speaker is pending before the Assembly. “When the position of a Speaker is under challenge, through a notice of resolution for his removal, it would ‘seem’ just and appropriate, that the Speaker first demonstrates his right to continue as such, by winning support of the majority in the State Legislature” — said the main judgment by Justices JS Khehar, PC Ghosh and NV Rama. If a Speaker ‘truly and rightfully’ enjoys support of the majority of the MLAs, then there should be no difficulty whatsoever to demonstrate that confidence. So why would a Speaker who is confident of his majority, fear a floor test, the SC bench has asked. Once his position as Speaker is affirmed, he would have sufficient authority to disqualify legislators. But the situation will be very different if a Speaker’s own position is shaky. In such a situation, the apex court’s question is highly significant: “ Why should a Speaker who is not confident of facing a motion for his removal, have the right to adjudicate upon disqualification petitions under the Tenth Schedule?”. This is about the ethical aspect of looking at a Speaker’s action to disqualify lawmakers. Along with it, the apex court has also wrestled with the constitutiol aspect which ‘must have a constitutiol answer’.
In his concurring judgment, Justice Dipak Misra pointed out that the Speaker acts as ‘a tribul’ who exercises the power of ‘constitutiol adjudication’ in the authority vested upon him under the Tenth Schedule. “It is therefore, required that his conduct should not only be impartial but such impartiality should be perceptible. It should be beyond any reproach. It must reflect the trust reposed in him under the Constitution,” ruled Justice Misra. Thus the Supreme Court’s ruling to put aright the Aruchal mess is also a clear guideline about a Speaker’s role when it comes to disqualifying legislators under the anti-defection law. There have been allegations that some Speakers have acted in highly partisan manner, doing a hatchet job to shore up a beleaguered chief minister by disqualifying dissident lawmakers. While obtaining a stay order from the Gauhati High Court in January last on their disqualification, 14 dissident Congress MLAs from Aruchal had contended that Speaker bam Rebia passed the disqualification order without giving them a hearing, which was in violation of tural justice. In Uttarakhand, nine dissident Congress legislators accused Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal of disqualifying them to take them out of the equation in a floor test against Chief Minister Harish Rawat. The Uttarakhand High Court ruled in favour of the Speaker that the dissident Congress MLAs by their conduct (aligning with BJP MLAs in the House), had ‘voluntarily given up membership of their political party, even if they did not become members of any other political party’. The Supreme Court has now begun hearing on their petition, and it is expected that its ruling will clear up some unresolved questions about a Speaker’s role and powers. It is a delicate matter for the apex court too, for in the past, Lok Sabha Speakers like Purno Sangma and Somth Chatterji and some State Assembly Speakers had strongly defended their jurisdiction against the Judiciary. But if Governors need to observe ‘Laksman rekhas’ under the Constitution, so must Speakers.