From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Anti-defection law
Mains level : Issues with the role of Speaker in defection cases
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.
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.
Cases considered under the anti-defection law
The law covers three scenarios with respect to shifting of political parties by an MP or an MLA.
(1) Voluntary give-up
- The first is 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.
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.
Significant 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.
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.
- 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.