M A I N   N E W S

Speaker adamant, but in a fix
Many presiding officers may boycott conclave
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 14
With Presiding Officers of NDA-ruled states being advised to stay away from Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s specially convened meeting of the Presiding Officers of state legislatures on March 20, the Chairperson of the House of the People has decided to bash on regardless to restore “Constitutional Balance” among the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature.

In a major setback, Presiding Officers of NDA-ruled states have been asked in a language couched in diplomacy by the Opposition grouping to boycott the meeting convened by Mr Chatterjee whom they charged with “creating an unwarranted controversy between the legislature and the judiciary.”

A resolution adopted at the meeting of the Opposition alliance here tonight noted that “the NDA is sure that Speakers of Legislative Assemblies would exercise statesmanship with a constitutional vision before deciding to attend this conference and assisting the Lok Sabha Speaker to pursue an agenda which can be harmful to Indian democracy.”

That means that there will have to be a serious rethink on Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s part, who is the Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha and a special invitee. Mr Shekhawat, who is unwell, is expected to excuse himself from the meeting convened by Mr Chatterjee. The Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Mr Charanjit Singh Atwal of the SAD will also not attend the meeting convened by the Lok Sabha Speaker in keeping with the directive of the NDA.

The resolution stressed that the Jharkhand issue related to the Constitutional misconduct of the Governor. Despite proven majority of the NDA, Governor Syed Sibtey Razi chose to defy the Constitution and instal a minority government. “He (Mr Razi) gave to the minority government an unfairly long time to manage a majority through horse trading. He broke the Constitutional convention of appointing a senior member as Pro Tem Speaker and instead picked a junior member because the UPA did not have a senior member in the Assembly.”

Further, the resolution explained that the task before the Supreme Court was to deal with the unconstitutional action of the Governor. “The Supreme Court is well within its jurisdiction to quash the action of the Governor, if that action is wholly unconstitutional. The order of the Supreme Court did not interfere with any legislative proceedings.”

The NDA contended that the challenge to the action of the Governor and the judicial review in that context had been deliberately interpreted to create a “legislature vs judiciary” issue. “What is required is vision and statesmanship rather than a confrontationist posture by one occupying a high legislative responsibility,” the resolution said.

Sources in the Lok Sabha secretariat said invitations had been despatched to all the Presiding Officers of all the state legislatures for a critical discussion on the three organs of the State — the Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary.

In the first instance, the BJP-led NDA had walked out of the all-party meeting convened by Mr Chatterjee following the Supreme Court’s intervention in Jharkhand advancing the date of the vote of confidence in respect of JMM leader Shibhu Soren, and disassociated itself from the Speaker’s suggestion of making a Presidential Reference.

Miffed with the Congress-led UPA government declining to act on his suggestion of making a Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the Constitution following the Apex court’s intervention in advancing the vote of confidence in Jharkhand, Mr Chatterjee affirmed today there “is no going back” in holding next Sunday’s conclave with the Presiding Officers of state legislatures.

Insisting that he did not care what the “Sarkar (the government) says, the Speaker is acutely aware that the Congress is against a confrontation with the Judiciary even though the dominant party in the UPA initially felt that the Supreme Court’s order vis-a-vis Jharkhand amounted to encroaching on the powers of the legislature as well as the Governor’s whose decision in appointing a Chief Minister and Council of Ministers is non-justiciable.

Responding to a question if there is a confrontation between Parliament and the Judiciary, Mr Chatterjee observed angrily there “is no confrontation with the Judiciary.”

After intense discussions in the core group, the Manmohan Singh government decided within the next 16 hours on Friday that “all concerned should respect and abide by the directive of the Supreme Court.” That saw the Speaker and the Left parties which were in the vanguard of proposing a Presidential Reference out in the cold.

Later, in a clarifying statement, Mr Chatterjee noted that the Supreme Court’s order is binding on everybody. “I have never said that the order of the Court should not be implemented. Whether a review of the Court’s order can be done through a Presidential reference was the option explored at the meeting of the leaders in Parliament (on March 10),” he added.


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