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Snub for Speaker?

Editorial |

The specifics will be adjudicated upon subsequently, what has long-term implications is the Supreme Court’s accepting a “case” that involves its ruling on a decision of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Perhaps not entirely unprecedented, yet certainly unexpected and it brings into judicial focus the simmering stand-off between the government-controlled House of the People, and the Rajya Sabha where the NDA does not command a majority. The tipping point being the Speaker’s holding that the Aadhaar legislation was a “Money Bill” and therefore the Rajya Sabha had little role to play. The issue, which has had the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha livid for quite some time since it suspects the government of using the Money Bill route to push through its pet legislation, provoked considerable fire in the apex court on Tuesday. And in what might be perceived as a snub to the government, the Chief Justice of India insisted that the court could interfere with a decision of the Speaker if the rules of Parliament were violated, which runs counter to the general belief that there can be no challenging the decision of the presiding officer. “If the Speaker says blue is green then we will ask the Speaker to say it is blue. We can’t let it go as green,” Mr Justice JS Khehar made it clear to the Attorney-General. Responding to the law officer’s highlighting the virtues of the Aadhaar regime, the CJI observed, “Your object may be good, but whether it is a Money Bill or not is the question”. And he added that some of the issues raised in Jairam Ramesh’s petition were of “vital importance”.

The “dispute” has to be perceived in the wider context of the government and the Opposition in a virtually permanent stand-off. With the former believing its majority in the Lok Sabha does not require it to seek a consensus on most issues, and the Opposition using the reverse situation in the Rajya Sabha to raise speed-bumps aplenty. Successive ministers for parliamentary affairs have cared little to try and garner the cooperation of the Opposition. That has put the Speaker in a rather awkward position, and under obvious pressure from the government she has created an impression of appearing partisan ~ which is manifest in the daily “clashes” in the House. In the Rajya Sabha, Opposition members have consistently queried the frequent use of the Money Bill mechanism, and even questioned the relevance of the Council if it is to be by-passed frequently. The “action” in the apex court could serve as a corrective, but the only lasting solution will be cooperation across the floor: something probably elusive given the confrontationist, pique-propelled politics of the day.