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Speaker’s powers on Anti-Defection Cases

  Nov 25, 2021

Speaker’s powers on Anti-Defection Cases

Q What is the context  ?

A The All-India Presiding Officers’ Conference (AIPOC) ended with the delegates failing to reach a consensus on whether the Speaker’s powers under the anti-defection law should be limited.

Q What is Anti-defection Law?

  • The Anti-Defection Law under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution punishes MPs/ MLAs for defecting from their party by taking away their membership of the legislature.
  • It gives the Speaker of the legislature the power to decide the outcome of defection proceedings.
  • It was added to the Constitution through the Fifty-Second (Amendment) Act, 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi was PM.
  • The law applies to both Parliament and state assemblies.

Q Which cases are  considered under the anti-defection law ?

A The law covers three scenarios with respect to shifting of political parties by an MP or an MLA.

1.Voluntary give-up

  • When a member elected on the ticket of a political party “voluntarily gives up” membership of such a party or votes in the House against the wishes of the party.
  • Such persons lose his seat.

2. Independent members

  • When a legislator who has won his or her seat as an independent candidate joins a political party after the election.
  • In both these instances, the legislator loses the seat in the legislature on changing (or joining) a party.

3.  Nominated MPs

  • In their case, the law gives them six months to join a political party, after being nominated.
  • If they join a party after such time, they stand to lose their seat in the House.

Q Who has the powers to disqualification ?

  • Under the anti-defection law, the power to decide the disqualification of an MP or MLA rests with the presiding officer of the legislature.
  • The law does not specify a time frame in which such a decision has to be made.
  • As a result, Speakers of legislatures have sometimes acted very quickly or have delayed the decision for years — and have been accused of political bias in both situations.

Q What is role of the Speaker/Presiding Officer ?

  • Pandit Nehru had referred to the Speaker as “the symbol of the nation’s freedom and liberty” and emphasized that Speakers should be men of “outstanding ability and impartiality”.
  • Several judgments on the anti-defection law have been rendered by the Supreme Court.
  • A common factor that shows up in these rulings is the blatant, partisan conduct of speakers in state assemblies.

Q What are reasons for Speakers’ bias ?

  • The Speaker continues to belong to a particular political party.
  • The electoral system and conventions in India have ‘not been developed to ensure protection to the office, there are cogent reasons for Speakers to retain party membership.
  • It would be unrealistic to expect a speaker to completely abjure all party considerations while functioning.
  • There are structural issues regarding the manner of appointment of the Speaker and her tenure in office.

Q What can be Way forward ?

  • Parliament may seriously consider a Constitutional amendment to bring in a permanent Tribunal for dealing with defection cases.
  • It is suggested that a scheme should be brought wherein Speakers should renounce all political affiliations, membership, and activity once they have been elected.
  • We can learn from the UK model. In practice, once elected, the Speaker gives up all-partisan affiliation, as in other Parliaments of British tradition.
  • He/she remains in office until retirement, even though the majority may change and does not express any political views during debates.
  • Impartiality, fairness, and autonomy in decision-making are the hallmarks of a robust institution.
  • It is the freedom from interference and pressures which provide the necessary atmosphere where one can work with an absolute commitment to the cause of neutrality as a constitutional value.