Rethink Speaker’s power to disqualify lawmakers: SC

Rethink Speaker’s power to disqualify lawmakers: SC

Satya Prakash
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, January 21

Faced with frequent disputes arising out of inordinately delayed and partial decisions by Speakers, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked Parliament to reconsider if Speaker should continue to decide disqualification petitions of legislators under the anti-defection law.

An amendment will give teeth to provisions in the Tenth Schedule, which are vital to proper functioning of democracy. — Bench

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“It is time Parliament rethinks whether disqualification petitions ought to be entrusted to a Speaker as a quasi-judicial authority when such Speaker continues to belong to a particular political party either de jure or de facto,” a Bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman said.

“Parliament may seriously consider amending the Constitution to substitute the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies as arbiter of disputes concerning disqualification which arise under the Tenth Schedule with a permanent tribunal headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court, or some other outside independent mechanism to ensure that such disputes are decided both swiftly and impartially,” it said.

It said if the constitutional objective of disqualifying persons who have infracted the Tenth Schedule is to be adhered to, the Speaker should decide a disqualification petition within three months from the date of filing.

The top court asked the Manipur Assembly Speaker to decide within four weeks a Congress leader’s plea seeking disqualification of BJP lawmaker and Manipur Forest Minister T Shyamkumar. It gave liberty to Congress MLA Fajur Rahim and K Meghachandra to approach it again for further directions in the matter if the Speaker failed to take a decision within four weeks.

The BJP minister had won the Assembly election on the Congress ticket and later joined the BJP. He then became a minister. This led to filing of the plea seeking his disqualification. The apex court said Parliament should rethink whether the Speaker should decide such disqualification pleas, keeping in mind the fact that he also belonged to a particular political party.

Terming defections by lawmakers as “a matter of national concern”, the Rajiv Gandhi government had introduced the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution through the 52nd Amendment to deal with “the evil of political defections.”

The law talks of two circumstances when a member can be disqualified: one, if he/she voluntarily gives up membership of a party and two, when he/she votes (or abstains from voting) contrary to the directive issued by the party.

The power to decide petitions seeking disqualification of lawmakers under the anti-defection law i.e. the Tenth Schedule rests with the Speaker. But in most cases, Speakers have failed to act in an impartial manner, forcing the top court to intervene from time to time.

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