By Devender Singh Aswal
A petition has been filed in the Delhi High Court alleging inaction in filling the constitutional post of the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Obviously, the petitioner is concerned as there has been an unconscionable delay of over 28 months in the election of the Deputy Speaker.
Article 93 of the Constitution casts an obligation that “the House of the People shall, as soon as may be, choose two members of the House to be respectively Speaker and Deputy Speaker thereof, and so often as the office of Speaker and Deputy Speaker becomes vacant, the House shall choose another member” to fill the vacancy. The expression used is “shall” and not “may” which, as per the cardinal principle of statutory interpretation, leaves no shred of discretion left with the House.
The posts are considered so important that the makers of the Constitution provided not only for choosing the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker as early as possible but made it mandatory for the House to choose another Speaker or Deputy Speaker, as the case may, if any of the post becomes vacant.
The expression, “as soon as may be” cannot be construed that these constitutional posts remain vacant for years indefinitely. The House consists of members and it is for the government, commanding majority in the House, to hold election to these constitutional posts so as to avoid any constitutional void.
The post of Deputy Speaker, as per well-established parliamentary convention, goes to the Opposition. The foundation of this laudable convention started way back in 1956. The Lok Sabha had Deputy Speakers like Sardar Hukum Singh, GG Swell, Shivraj Patil, S Malikarjunaiah, Suraj Bhan, PM Sayeed, Charanjit Singh Atwal, Kariya Munda and Dr M Thambi Durai who did not belong to the ruling party.
During the last session when some members raised the issue about the prolonged delay in the election of the Deputy Speaker, the Speaker deftly observed that it was not in his power. Under Rule 8 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha, “the election of the Deputy Speaker shall be held on such date as the Speaker may fix”.
However, the fact of the matter is the date for holding election to the post of Deputy Speaker is fixed at the initiative of the government. The government plays a decisive role as it commands majority in the House. It may have behind-the-curtain consultation and help in the election of a candidate who may be, though from the Opposition, but not from the principal Opposition party. So, the government has the leeway by virtue of its numerical majority to contrive a situation in which the post may go to a mellowed-in-tuned-Opposition rather than the dominant Opposition.
The Deputy Speaker discharges the functions of the Speaker in his absence. He is not subordinate to the Speaker. He holds an independent constitutional post and is answerable to the House and can be removed by the House only. He has the same powers as of the Speaker when presiding over the sitting of the House and no appeal lies against his rulings given in the House and cannot be reopened by anyone. In the absence of the Speaker or due to vacancy in the office of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker performs the duties of his office.
In 1956, when Speaker GV Mavalankar died, Deputy Speaker, M Ananthasayanam Ayyangar filled the void, and later, he was elected as Speaker. In 2002 due the demise of GMC Balayogi, PM Syed, the Deputy Speaker discharged the functions of the Speaker. It was Syed, who belonged to the Congress party, who presided over the joint sitting of Parliament convened to pass The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002 by the Vajpayee government. When GS Dhillon resigned from the post of Speaker in December, 1975, on being sworn in as minister, the Deputy Speaker discharged the functions of the office of the Speaker. Similarly, when Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy contested in two different terms for the election of the president, he resigned from the post of Speaker and the Deputy Speaker discharged the functions of the Speaker.
The moot question is whether the High Court can direct the Lok Sabha to elect the Deputy Speaker. The High Court is empowered to issue appropriate direction to do complete justice in a matter before it. In any case, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha is on record that it is not his job to appoint the Deputy Speaker, despite the well-established parliamentary convention being that a motion is moved by the parliamentary affairs minister and the motion is duly seconded by the treasury benches which is carried by the House.
However, with the unanimous election of Sardar Hukum Singh of the Akali Dal as Deputy Speaker in 1956, it has become a sound convention that the ruling party, despite its majority, offers the post to the Opposition. When the Deputy Speaker is elected, he is duly conducted to his seat by the parliamentary affairs minister and the leader of the Opposition. There are instances when prime ministers, namely, Deve Gowda, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh personally conducted the newly elected Deputy Speaker to his seat. Vajpayee conducted the Deputy Speakers to their seats during the 12th and the 13th Lok Sabha.
Another fascinating aspect is that the post of Deputy Speaker has never remained vacant. Even the Britishers, when the central bicameral was set up in 1921 under the GoI Act,1919, the post of Vice President was held by Sachidanand Sinha with Sir Frederick Whyte as the President of the Central Legislative Assembly. The Constituent Assembly tasked with the responsibility of framing the Constitution had two Vice Presidents—HC Mookherjee and TT Krishnamachari.
The Provisional Parliament too had a Deputy Speaker—Ananthasayanam Ayangar. The Constitution-makers, therefore, rightly made a provision making it mandatory to have the posts of Speakers and Deputy Speakers filled without any delay when the new House is constituted and as and when any one of these posts fall vacant.
The Constitution, more than the citizens, binds the State and the State must be an exemplar in discharging its constitutional obligation. Minimum government and maximum governance cannot obliterate in its sweep a constitutional provision.
—The author is ex Addl Secretary, Lok Sabha and member Delhi Bar Council