Anti Defection Law

Revisiting the Anti-Defection Law: Upholding Accountability in Parliamentary Democracy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Anti-defection law

Mains level: Anti-defection law needs a relook and The Importance of accountability in

Central idea

  • Two recent judgments by the Supreme Court of India have brought attention to the constitutional framework governing the relationship between the executive, legislature, and political parties. While the judgments were unanimous, they present a contradiction in their application. The Delhi case emphasized the importance of accountability of civil services to the elected government, while the Maharashtra case upheld the power of party leadership over legislators, undermining the principles of parliamentary democracy.

Delhi Case: Reinforcing the Importance of Accountability

  • Importance of Accountability: The case underscores the significance of accountability in a democratic system. It reaffirms the idea that a government elected by the people must be answerable to them through a triple chain of command: civil service officers being accountable to ministers, ministers being accountable to the legislature, and the legislature being accountable to the electorate.
  • Power Distribution: The judgment clarifies the delineation of powers between the Delhi government, headed by the Chief Minister, and the Lieutenant Governor appointed by the central government. It establishes that in matters concerning civil services, the elected government of Delhi should have control and authority, emphasizing the democratic principle of decentralization of power.
  • Constitutional Provisions and Democratic Values: The case highlights the significance of adhering to the constitutional provisions and demarcation of powers in a Union Territory like Delhi. It upholds the principles of parliamentary democracy, emphasizing the importance of a government accountable to the people it serves.
  • Strengthening Democratic Institutions: The judgment emphasizes the role of institutions in upholding democratic values enshrined in the Constitution. By safeguarding accountability and appropriately allocating powers, it sets a precedent for future cases and reinforces the role of institutions in maintaining a robust democratic system.

What is triple chain of accountability?

  1. Civil Service Officers to Ministers: The first link in the chain is the accountability of civil service officers to the Ministers. Civil service officers are responsible for implementing government policies and carrying out administrative tasks. They are answerable to the Ministers who oversee their work and provide directions.
  2. Ministers to the Legislature: The second link in the chain is the accountability of Ministers to the legislature. Ministers are accountable for their decisions, actions, and policies to the legislature, which represents the voice of the people. They are expected to participate in debates, answer questions, present bills, and seek approval or support for government initiatives from the elected representatives.
  3. Legislature to the Electorate: The third link in the chain is the accountability of the legislature to the electorate. The elected representatives in the legislature are accountable to the people who have chosen them through the electoral process. Legislators are expected to represent the interests and concerns of their constituents, work towards their welfare, and ensure that their voices are heard in the decision-making process.

Maharashtra Case: Undermining the Triple Chain of Accountability

  • Interpretation of the Tenth Schedule: The case revolves around the interpretation and application of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, which deals with the anti-defection law. The judgment focuses on the distinction between the legislature party and the political party, clarifying the power to issue binding directions to members of the legislature.
  • Role of Party Leadership: The judgment reinforces the authority of the political party leadership over the legislature. It establishes that the person in charge of the political party holds the power to issue directions to the members of the party, including MLAs/MPs, and failure to comply can result in disqualification.
  • Limitation on Legislators’ Accountability: The judgment raises concerns regarding the accountability of legislators to their voters. By upholding the authority of the political party leadership, it potentially weakens the accountability of legislators to the electorate and emphasizes their accountability solely to the party that fielded them in the election.
  • Triple Chain of Accountability: The judgment diverges from the principles outlined in the Delhi case concerning the triple chain of accountability. It suggests that legislators should adhere to the directions of the political party, potentially undermining the daily assessment of the government by the legislature and diluting the accountability of the government to the people.
  • Need for Re-evaluation: The judgment indicates the need for re-evaluating the anti-defection law and its compatibility with the principles of parliamentary democracy. It raises questions about the anti-defection law violating the basic structure of the Constitution, calling for a larger bench to examine this issue.

Facts for prelims: Basics

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.

Contradictory Conclusions: The Problem of the Anti-Defection Law

  • The contradictory conclusions arising from the application of the anti-defection law in both the cases:
  • Constitutional Position: While the Delhi case emphasizes the accountability of civil services to the Delhi government and upholds the triple chain of command, the Maharashtra case highlights the power of the political party leadership over legislators, as dictated by the Tenth Schedule.
  • Incompatibility with Parliamentary Democracy: The Maharashtra case raises concerns about the anti-defection law, which is at the core of the Tenth Schedule, and its compatibility with the structure underlying parliamentary democracy. The anti-defection law’s assumption that any vote against the party direction is a betrayal of the electoral mandate contradicts the principle of representative democracy.
  • Legislative Accountability: The Maharashtra judgment reinforces the authority of the political party leadership, implying that legislators are primarily accountable to the party that fielded them, rather than to the electorate. This breaks the triple chain of accountability.
  • Impact on Daily Assessment: The Maharashtra judgment’s emphasis on party directions limits the daily assessment of the government by the legislature. If legislators of the party with a majority are bound by party directions, it undermines the meaningfulness of debates, resolutions, and no-confidence motions, as the party leadership controls the votes on every issue, ensuring the government’s victory.
  • Electoral Mandate and Voter Decision: The anti-defection law assumes that voters prioritize party affiliation, disregarding other factors such as candidates’ criminal records, assets and liabilities, and educational qualifications. However, voters’ decisions in elections often contradict this assumption, as demonstrated by instances of legislators winning by-elections after switching parties.

Way forward

  • Re-evaluation of the Anti-Defection Law: It is crucial to revisit the anti-defection law and assess its compatibility with the basic principles of parliamentary democracy. A thorough examination by a larger Bench of the Supreme Court can help determine if the law violates the basic structure of the Constitution.
  • Reviewing the Tenth Schedule: The Tenth Schedule, which forms the basis of the anti-defection law, should be subject to a critical review. This includes analyzing its impact on the accountability of legislators to their constituents and evaluating whether it aligns with the principles of representative democracy.
  • Strengthening Legislative Accountability: Efforts should be made to reinforce the accountability of legislators to the electorate. This can be achieved by ensuring that legislators prioritize their constituents’ interests over party directives, thereby fostering a stronger connection between legislators and the people they represent.
  • Promoting Informed Voting: Emphasizing the importance of informed voting can help voters make decisions based on factors beyond party affiliation. Providing comprehensive information about candidates, including their track records, assets and liabilities, and educational qualifications, will enable voters to make more informed choices during elections.
  • Balancing Party Discipline and Individual Freedom: Striking a balance between party discipline and individual freedom of legislators is crucial. There should be mechanisms in place that encourage healthy debate, dissent, and the ability of legislators to vote based on their own judgment, while still respecting party affiliations.
  • Enhancing Parliamentary Debates and Oversight: Efforts should be made to strengthen the role of legislatures in holding the government accountable. This can be achieved through robust parliamentary debates, effective question hour sessions, and rigorous scrutiny of government actions and policies.


  • The contradiction between the Delhi and Maharashtra cases underscores the need to revisit the anti-defection law. A larger Bench should re-examine the law’s compatibility with the basic structure of the Constitution, reaffirming the centrality of accountability in parliamentary democracy. This step is crucial to restore the balance between party loyalty and the representatives’ duty to serve their constituents and uphold democratic values.

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