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The Deputy Speaker

During the last monsoon session, when the issue of prolonged delay in the election of the Deputy Speaker was raised, the Speaker observed that it was not in his power. Under Rule 8 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, the election of the Deputy Speaker shall be held on such date as the Speaker may fix. But the fact is that a date for election to the post is fixed at the initiative of the Government.

Devender Singh Aswal | New Delhi |

An Assembly cannot transact business without electing its Sabhapati or the President. The position of the Sabhapati and the assembled is held in high esteem from time immemorial. A hymn of the Yajurveda says, ‘Salutations to the Assembled and salutations to the President’. The makers of our Constitution, therefore, made specific provision for the election of the Speaker and 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 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 be, if either of the posts became vacant. The expression, ‘as soon as may be’, cannot be construed to mean that these constitutional posts remain vacant indefinitely. The House consists of members, and it is for the Government, commanding majority in the House, to hold elections to these constitutional posts to avoid a constitutional void.

It is in this backdrop that a petition has been filed in the Delhi High Court alleging inaction in filling the constitutional post of the Deputy Speaker, Lok Sabha. Obviously, the petitioner is, arguably, concerned as there has been an unconscionable delay of over 28 months in the election of the Deputy Speaker. It may take still longer as the Winter Session of Parliament is yet to convene. The post of Deputy Speaker, as per well-established parliamentary convention, goes to the opposition.

The foundation of this convention was laid way back in 1956 when Sardar Hukum Singh of the Akali Dal was elected unopposed as Deputy Speaker. The Deputy Speakers like G.G. Swell, Shivraj Patil, Mallikarjunaiah, Suraj Bhan, P.M. Syed, Charanjit Singh Atwal, Karia Munda and Thambidurai too, did not belong to the ruling party. During the Monsoon session, 2021, when the issue of prolonged delay in the election of the Deputy Speaker was raised, the Speaker observed that it was not in his power.  Let’s see what the Rule says.

Under Rule 8 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in 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. As a parliamentary convention, the post, though elective, goes to the opposition.

The Government plays a decisive role as it commands majority in the House. Government may have behind-the-scenes consultation for the election of a candidate who may be of the opposition but not from the principal opposition party. So, Government has the leeway by virtue of its numerical majority to contrive a situation in which the post of Deputy Speaker goes to a mellow Opposition candidate rather than one from 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 only be removed by the House. He has the same powers as of the Speaker when presiding over the sitting of the House and no appeal lies against his rulings, nor can they be reopened.

He is like the Speaker and embodies the principle that the Speaker of the British House of Commons had cited to King Charles when the monarch stormed the House in 1642: “Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.” In the absence of the Speaker or due to vacancy in the office of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker performs the duties of the office of the Speaker.

In 1956, when Speaker G. V. Mavalankar died, Deputy Speaker M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar filled the void; later he was elected as Speaker. In 2002, due to the demise of G.M.C. Balayogi, the Deputy Speaker, P.M. Syed, discharged the functions of the Speaker.  It was Syed, the Deputy Speaker belonging to the Congress who presided over the joint sitting of Parliament convened to pass The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002 by the Vajpayee government.

When G. S. 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 the election to the office of President of the republic, he resigned from the post of Speaker and the Deputy Speaker discharged the functions of the Speaker. Since the matter is subjudice, 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 directions to do complete justice in a matter before it. In any case, the Speaker Lok Sabha is on record to say that it is not his job to appoint the Deputy Speaker but of the House to choose one. However, the wellestablished parliamentary practice is that a motion is moved by the parliamentary affairs minister and duly seconded by the treasury benches or by the oppo sition, which is carried by the House. 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 conducted to his seat by the parliamentary affairs minister and the leader of the opposition. There are instances when prime ministers, namely, H D Deve Gowda, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh personally conducted the newly elected Deputy Speaker to his seat. Notably, Vajpayee conducted the Deputy Speaker to his seat during the 12th and the 13th Lok Sabha. Another fascinating aspect is that the post of Deputy Speaker never remained vacant.

Even under the British, when the central bicameral legislature was set up in 1921 under the Government of India 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 ~ H.C. Mookherjee and T.T. Krishnamachari.

The Provisional Parliament too had a Deputy Speaker- Ananthasayanam Ayyangar. The Constitution makers therefore rightly made a mandatory provision to have the posts of Speaker and the Deputy Speaker filled without delay, when the new House is constituted or as and when one of these posts fall vacant. It is the fundamental duty of every citizen and constitutional body to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions.

The Constitution, more than the citizens, binds the State and the constitutional bodies must be exemplars in discharging their constitutional obligation. Minimum government and maximum governance cannot obliterate in its sweep a constitutional provision. Hopefully, the Lok Sabha will elect its Deputy Speaker during the ensuing Winter Session of Parliament.

(The writer is ex Additional Secretary, Lok Sabha and a member, Delhi Bar Council. The views expressed are personal)