Context: Opposition party members have been protesting against the Kerala Assembly speaker, accusing him of being biased towards the ruling party.
Non-Partisan Role of Speaker Background
- Opposition party members have been protesting from the past few days against the speaker’s decision to deny them an opportunity to present notice for their adjournment motion on various pressing issues.
- The opposition party MLAs barged into the speaker’s office, clashing with house marshals and ruling party MLAs.
- Opposition party MLAs were charged with non-bailable offences like rioting and barging into an office to cause hurt, leading to a logjam in the state assembly.
- The Opposition members resorted to parodying Assembly proceedings, with some of them displaying large placards in the assembly.
- The conciliatory talks initiated by the Speaker to break the deadlock have failed to produce result. The opposition MLAs have accused the speaker of being biased.
Office of the Speaker
- A speaker is the presiding officer of a legislative house and is responsible for carrying out house proceedings in accordance with the constitution, rules of procedure and business rules, and legislative conventions.
- Constitutional provision: The office is created under the Article 178 of the Constitution of India.
- Appointment: The Speaker is elected from amongst the members of the house. The date for election is decided by the state Governor, who also administers the oath to the speaker.
- Vacating office: The speaker vacates office in following cases:
- If he/she ceases to be the member of the house;
- If he/she resigns by writing to the deputy speaker of the house;
- If he/she is removed by a resolution passed by the majority of the members.
Role of the Speaker of the House
- Presiding over legislative session: The speaker presides over assembly debates and maintains order and discipline of the house during legislative session.
- The speaker decides when a member should be allowed to speak and how long he/she be allowed to speak.
- Interpretation of rules: The speaker is responsible for interpreting the constitution and rules in the assembly.
- Appointing chairman: The Speaker is responsible for appointing chairman of all the committees of the house.
- Determining money bill: The speaker is the final interpreter on decision whether a bill is a money bill.
- Anti-defection: The speaker decides on the questions of disqualification of a member of the house based on anti-defection law.
- Voting: The speaker does not vote in the first instance, but can exercise a casting vote in instance of a tie.
- Secret sitting: The speaker can allow for a secret sitting of the house upon request of the leader of the house.
- Maintain decorum: The speaker maintains discipline and order in the house by practicing disciplinary privileges granted by the constitution of India.
Current Issues with the Office of Speaker
- Biased towards the ruling party: Speakers are nominated by the ruling party and more often than not, they are biased in favour of the ruling party.
- Reducing role of opposition: Speakers have been giving very less opportunity for opposition leaders to speak on pressing issues. This has reduced the role of opposition in the assemblies.
- Non-referral of bills: Speakers have allowed passing of important bills in several sessions without substantial discussion. The demand for referral to committees has been ignored.
- Conflict of interests: The speakers’ presiding role conflicts with his/her role as a member of a political party, trying to push the agenda of the ruling party.
Need for an Impartial Speaker
- Guardian of rights: The speaker is the guardian of rights of elected legislators across party affiliations. He/she must ensure that their rights are upheld.
- Effectiveness of institution: The speaker is responsible for upholding the effectiveness of the institution, aiming to turn it into a key arm of well-functioning democracy.
- The speaker must allow the opposition to perform their duty, which is to question the government of the day through various motions.
- Constitutional duty: Being a key constitutional office, the speaker is expected to be a guardian of representative democracy in the country. He/she is responsible for ensuring that voices of the marginalized are heard.
- Healthy discussions: Healthy discussion and debate over ideas, even if adversarial, would go a long way in ensuring good governance in states.
- Independence of office: A non-partisan conduct of legislative proceedings by the speaker will help in normalization of relations between ruling party and the opposition.
- For ensuring independence of office, speaker can be provided with continuity. This will reduce dependence on their political party for re-election.
- Resigning from party membership: Speaker can be made to resign from his/her party for occupying the position so that his/her sole allegiance will be to the Constitution.
- This will help in upholding the spirit of democracy in larger interests of the public.