Monday, January 28, 2008

Role of Lok Sabha Speaker

Role of Lok Sabha Speaker

The office of the Speaker occupies a pivotal position in our parliamentary democracy. It has been said of the office of the Speaker that while the members of Parliament represent the individual constituencies, the Speaker represents the full authority of the House itself. He symbolises the dignity and power of the House over which he is presiding. Therefore, it is expected that the holder of this office of high dignity has to be one who can represent the House in all its manifestations.

The responsibility entrusted to the Speaker is so onerous that he cannot afford to overlook any aspect of parliamentary life. His actions come under close scrutiny in the House and are also widely reported in the mass media. With the televising of proceedings of Parliament, the small screen brings to millions of households in the country the day-to-day developments in the House making the Speaker's task all the more important.

Even though the Speaker speaks rarely in the House, when he does, he speaks for the House as a whole. The Speaker is looked upon as the true guardian of the traditions of parliamentary democracy. His unique position is illustrated by the fact that he is placed very high in the Warrant of Precedence in our country, standing next only to the President, the Vice-President and the Prime Minister.   In India, through the Constitution of the land, through the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha and through the practices and conventions, adequate powers are vested in the office of the Speaker to help him in the smooth conduct of the parliamentary proceedings and for protecting the independence and impartiality of the office. The Constitution of India provides that the Speaker's salary and allowances are not to be voted by Parliament and are to be charged on the Consolidated Fund of India.  

Term of Office

The Speaker holds office from the date of his election till immediately before the first meeting of the Lok Sabha after the dissolution of the one to which he was elected. He is eligible for re-election. On the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, although the Speaker ceases to be a member of the House, he does not vacate his office.   The Speaker may, at any time, resign from office by writing under his hand to the Deputy Speaker.   The Speaker can be removed from office only on a resolution of the House passed by a majority of all the then members of the House. Such a resolution has to satisfy some conditions like: it should be specific with respect to the charges and it should not contain arguments, inferences, ironical expressions, imputations or defamatory statements, etc. Not only these, discussions should be confined to charges referred to in the resolution. It is also mandatory to give a minimum of 14 days' notice of the intention to move the resolution.

Election of Speaker

In the Lok Sabha, the lower House of the Indian Parliament, both Presiding Officers—the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker- are elected from among its members by a simple majority of members present and voting in the House. As such, no specific qualifications are prescribed for being elected the Speaker. The Constitution only requires that he should be a member of the House.  But an understanding of the Constitution and the laws of the country and the rules of procedure and conventions of Parliament is considered a major asset for the holder of the office of the Speaker. The election of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha is an important event in the life of the House. One of the first acts of a newly constituted House is to elect the Speaker. Usually, a member belonging to the ruling party is elected the Speaker. A healthy convention, however, has evolved over the years whereby the ruling party nominates its candidate after informal consultations with the Leaders of other Parties and Groups in the House. This convention ensures that once elected, the Speaker enjoys the respect of all sections of the House. There are also instances when members not belonging to the ruling party or coalition were elected to the office of the Speaker.   Once a decision on the candidate is taken, his name is normally proposed by the Prime Minister or the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. If more than one notice is received, these are entered in the order of receipt. The Speaker pro term presides over the sitting in which the Speaker is elected, if it is a newly constituted House. If the election falls later in the life of a Lok Sabha the Deputy Speaker presides. The motions which are moved and duly seconded are put one by one in the order in which they are moved, and decided, if necessary, by division. If any motion is carried, the person presiding shall, without putting the latter motions, declare that the member proposed in the motion which has been carried has been chosen as the Speaker of the House. After the results are announced, the Speaker-elect is conducted to the Chair by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. He is then felicitated by Leaders of all Political Parties and Groups in the House to which he replies in a thanks-giving speech. And from then the new Speaker takes over. 

Speaker in the Chair  

In the Lok Sabha Chamber, the Speaker's Chair is distinctively placed and, from his seat, he gets a commanding view of the entire House. Insofar as the proceedings are concerned, he is guided by the provisions of the Constitution and the Rules of  Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha. He also benefits from the Directions issued by his predecessors which are compiled periodically. Besides, he is assisted by the Secretary-General of the Lok Sabha and senior officers of the Secretariat on parliamentary activities and on matters of practice and procedure. In the absence of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker discharges his functions. A member from the Panel of Chairmen presides over the House in the absence of both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

The Speaker has extensive functions to perform in matters administrative, judicial and regulatory, falling under his domain. He enjoys vast authority under the Constitution and the Rules, as well as inherently. As the conventional head of the Lok Sabha and as its principal spokesman, the Speaker represents its collective voice. Of course, he is the ultimate arbiter and interpreter of those provisions which relate to the functioning of the House. His decisions are final and binding and ordinarily cannot be questioned, challenged or criticised.  

Regulating the Business of the House    

 The final authority for adopting rules for regulating its procedure rests with each House, but a perusal of the rules of the Indian Parliament would indicate that the Presiding Officers in the two Houses are given vast powers by the rules. It is the Presiding Officer who decides the admissibility of a Question; it is he who decides the forms in which amendments may be moved to the Motion of Thanks to the President's Address. With regard to moving amendments to a Bill, the permission of the Chair is required. If a Bill is pending before the House, it is the Speaker who decides whether he should allow amendments to be moved to various clauses of the Bill or not.   As regards regulating discussions in the House, it is the Speaker who decides as to when a member shall speak and how long he shall speak. It is left to him to ask a member to discontinue his speech or even decide that what a particular member said may not go on record as part of the proceedings. If he is satisfied, the Speaker can direct a member to withdraw from the House for a specific period of time. A member who flouts his orders or directions may be named by the Speaker and in such cases, he may have to withdraw from the House.   The Speaker is the guardian of the rights and privileges of the House, its Committees and members. It depends solely on the Speaker to refer any question of privilege to the Committee of Privileges for examination, investigation and report. It is through him that the decisions of the House are communicated to outside individuals and authorities. It is the Speaker who decides the form and manner in which the proceedings of the House is published. He also issues warrants to execute the orders of the House, wherever necessary, and delivers reprimands on behalf of the House. The entire Parliamentary Estate is under the authority of the Speaker. When a decision of the House is to be ascertained on a motion made by a member, the question is put by the Speaker before the House to obtain the decision. On questions of points of order, it is he who finally decides whether the matter raised is in order or not.   The Speaker also has certain residuary powers under the Rules of Procedure. All matters which are not specifically provided under the rules and all questions relating to the working of the rules are regulated by him. In exercise of this power and under his inherent powers, the Speaker issues from time to time directions which are generally treated as sacrosanct as the Rules of Procedure. On matters regarding interpretation of constitutional provisions relating to the House or the Rules of Procedure, he often gives rulings which are respected by members and are binding in nature. Under the Constitution, the Speaker enjoys a special position insofar as certain matters pertaining to the relations between the two Houses of Parliament are concerned. He certifies Money Bills and decides finally what are money matters by reason of the Lok Sabha's overriding powers in financial matters. It is the Speaker of the Lok Sabha who presides over joint sittings called in the event of disagreement between the two Houses on a legislative measure.     As regards recognition of parliamentary parties it is the Speaker who lays down the necessary guidelines for such recognition. It is he who decides on granting recognition to the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Following the 52nd Constitution amendment, the Speaker is vested with the power relating to the disqualification of a member of the Lok Sabha on grounds of defection.   The Speaker makes obituary references in the House, formal references to important national and international events and the valedictory address at the conclusion of every Session of the Lok Sabha and also when the term of the House expires.     Though himself a member of the House, the Speaker does not vote in the House except on those rare occasions when there is a tie at the end of a decision. Till date, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha has not been called upon to exercise this unique casting vote.   

Speaker and the Committees

The Committees of the House function under the overall direction of the Speaker. All such Committees are constituted by him or by the House. The Chairmen of all Parliamentary Committees are nominated by him. Any procedural problems in the functioning of the Committees are referred to him for directions. Committees like the Business Advisory Committee, the General Purposes Committee and the Rules Committee work directly under his Chairmanship. 

Speaker and Members 

The Speaker is at once a member of the House as also its Presiding Officer. It is always the Speaker's task to ensure that parliamentary decorum is maintained under ail circumstances. For this he is invested with wide-ranging disciplinary powers under the rules. On the one hand, he strives to give adequate opportunities to all sections of the House to ventilate their views and on the other he has to preserve the dignity of the House. The Speaker's position in such situations is certainly unenviable. It is indeed a delicate task which calls for diplomacy, firmness, persuasion and perseverance of a high order.   The Speaker also keeps open a variety of informal channels of communication with individual members and the Leaders of Parties and Groups in the Lok Sabha. He interacts with Leaders of Parliamentary Parties at luncheon meetings on the eve of every Session. These are important occasions when he gets to know the mood of various parties on a wide spectrum of issues. The Speaker has to see to it that Parliament functions the way that it is intended to under the Constitution. All in all, it is always a tight-rope walk for the Speaker.

Speaker and Inter-Parliamentary Relations

The Speaker has certain other functions to perform as the head of the Lok Sabha. He is the ex officio President of the Indian Parliamentary Group (IPG), set up in 1949, which functions as the National Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Main Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). In that capacity, members of various Indian Parliamentary Delegations going abroad are nominated by him after consulting the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Most often, the Speaker himself leads such Delegations. Besides, he is the Chairman of the Conference of Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies in India.   

Speaker's Administrative Role   

The Speaker is the head of the Lok Sabha Secretariat which functions under his ultimate control and direction. The Speaker's authority over the Secretariat staff of the House, its precincts and its security arrangements is supreme. All strangers, visitors and press correspondents are subject to his discipline and orders and any breach of order may be punished by means of exclusion from the precincts of the Parliament House or stoppage of admission tickets to the galleries for definite or indefinite period, or in more serious cases, dealt with as a contempt or breach of privilege. No alternation or addition can be made in the Parliament House and no new structure can be erected in the Parliament Estate without the Speaker's permission.   

The office of the Speaker in India is a living and dynamic institution which deals with the actual needs and problems of Parliament in the performance of its functions. The Speaker is the constitutional and ceremonial head of the House. He is the principal spokesman of the House. It is in him that the responsibility of conducting the business of the House in a manner befitting the place of the institution in a representative democray is invested. The founding fathers of our Constitution had recognised the importance of this office in our democratic set-up and it was this recognition that guided them in establishing this office as one of the prominent and dignified ones in the scheme of governance of the country.   Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the chief architects of India's freedom and a moving force behind its Constitution, placed the office of the Speaker in India in the proper context when he said:  

The Speaker represents the House. He represents the dignity of the House, the freedom of the House and because the House represents the nation, in a particular way, the Speaker becomes a symbol of nation's freedom and liberty. Therefore, it is right that, that should be an honoured position, a free position and should be occupied always by men of outstanding ability and impartiality.

This would explain why this office still remains one of the most crucial ones in the life of every Lok Sabha.

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