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The Constitutional Importance Of Election Of The Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker (Part-II)

Pawan Reley
1 Jun 2021 6:46 AM GMT
The Constitutional Importance Of Election Of The Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker (Part-II)
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"…The Speakership is not a job for light weights. Its duties are onerous and of fundamental importance to the Parliamentary system. It calls for qualities of character which will sustain the authority of the Chair and the prestige of Parliament in any situation which might arise. The task in many respects a thankless one. Impartiality, that quality so essential in a...

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"…The Speakership is not a job for light weights. Its duties are onerous and of fundamental importance to the Parliamentary system. It calls for qualities of character which will sustain the authority of the Chair and the prestige of Parliament in any situation which might arise. The task in many respects a thankless one. Impartiality, that quality so essential in a Speaker, while universally applauded does not necessarily give universal satisfaction when it is exercised…" [Philip Laundy, In the House of Commons (In the Twentieth Century, P. 203)]

Confidence in the impartiality of the Constitutional offices is an indispensable condition for the working of Democracy. Many conventions exist which have the primary object not only to ensure the impartiality of these constitutional office but also to ensure the recognition of the impartiality among common people. One such convention is to elect the Deputy Speaker from the opposition parties. However, despite the mandatory provision in the Constitution for electing/choosing the Deputy Speaker, it has been two years as of May, 2021, there has been no election of Deputy Speaker.

When the request was made by the Congress Lok Sabha floor Leader Mr. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury to the Speaker to fulfil the Constitutional mandate given to him, the Ld. Speaker replied, published in the Hindu, New Delhi , September 10, 2020, in the following words:

"If there is a provision for the post of Deputy Speaker in the Lok Sabha, then it was only obvious that there should be one, but it was not the Speaker's job to appoint one, and that the Deputy Speaker was chosen by the house."

Though the Ld. Speaker did not mention that, as per Rule 8 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, first it is the onerous and impartial duty of the Speaker to fix the date for election of Deputy Speaker as soon as may be. Then it is the duty of the Secretary to send notice to every member of the date fixed for election. The duty of the House of the People starts only after receiving the notice from the Secretary of the date fixed for election of the Deputy Speaker.

Vacancy of the office of Deputy Speaker certainly raises doubts over the functioning of the House of the People. Why and how the election of the Deputy Speaker is mandatory under Article 93 of the Constitution of India has been examined in PART 1 of this series, which concludes that there is no discretion conferred by the Constitution on the House of the People to not choose the Deputy Speaker. There are yet other important questions of Constitutional importance which remain to be examined:

  1. How long can the Constitutional Office of Deputy Speaker be vacant?
  2. What can be the limitation period within which the election of the Deputy Speaker should be conducted?
  3. Whether the delay in choosing the Deputy Speaker would debar the House of People from electing him for the remaining period?

Q 1 & 2: Article 93 of the Constitution of India expressly does not put any rigid limitation in the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker by the House of the People. However, in order to balance the time limit and discretion of the members of the House of the People in electing the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, they used the expression "as soon as may". The expression "as soon as may be" is not defined under the Indian Constitution. It is essential to note that there are 16 (Sixteen) provisions in the Indian Constitution which use the expression "as soon as may be" those are Article 22 (1), Article 22 (5), Article 35 (1) (ii), Article 83 (1), Article 89 (2), Article 114 (1), Article 134A, Article 172 (2), Article 178 (1), Article 182, Article 204 (1), Article 243-I, Article 354 (2), Article 359 (3), Article 371 D (6) and Tenth Schedule Para 8 (2). However, the meaning of the expression "as soon as may be" may differ from one Article to another or from one statute to another on the basis of the intention of the framers and the gravity of the situation. The Hon'ble Supreme Court in the case of Ujagar Singh v. The State of Punjab (AIR 1952 SC 350) interpreting the phrase "as soon as may be" under Article 22 (1) of the Constitution held that:

"The Act does not fix the time within which the grounds should be furnished to the person detained. It merely states that the communication must be "as soon as may be". This means reasonable despatch and what is reasonable must depend on the facts of each case. No arbitrary time limit can be set down. The delays in the communication of the grounds in the two petitions have been adequately explained by the Home Secretary who says in his affidavits that grounds had to be supplied to nearly 250 detenus and that the printing of the necessary forms occupied some time. According to him, he made an order even on 11.03.1950 for the supply of the grounds.."

Similarly, the Hon'ble Supreme Court in K.N. Joglekar v. Commr of Police, AIR 1957 SC 28 differentiated the expression "forthwith" from "as soon as may be" and held that the former is interpreted to mean that of reasonable despatch and without avoidable delay and expedition, but, so far as the words "as soon as may be" is concerned, the Supreme Court interpreted the said words by its very nature, be indefinite depending upon the facts and circumstance of the case and the explanation is not to be equated with the verb "forthwith".

The Hon'ble Supreme Court considered and interpreted the words "as soon as" in the context of Motor Vehicles Act in the case of General Insurance Council v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 2007 (5) SCJ 397 and held that:

"As and when and `as soon as are almost synonymous. Whenever these expressions are used in respect of time and place, they denote contemporaneous notion. As soon as and `forthwith both are to be normally understood as allowing reasonable time, but latter is more peremptory than the former. But urgency is the hallmark of both expressions. Expression `as soon as may be' stretched to mean 'as soon as practicable'. It has to be forwarded. with promptitude."

The Hon'ble High Court of Kerala in the case of Jojy Jacob, Plackattu House & Others v. State Of Kerala & Others, 2011 (1) KLT 79, while interpreting Section 6 of the Kerala Land Reforms Act, held that:

"It is true, as contended on behalf of the petitioners, when the statute has used the expression 'as soon as may be', it implies that there has to be promptitude in action."

After analysing the ratio of the aforementioned judgements, it is evident, that the expression "as soon as may be" implies the "promptitude in action" but cannot be read as "immediately". It does not create any rigid time limit and may include indefinite time depending upon the justified facts and circumstance of the case. If it had been the intention of the framers of the Constitution to put a rigid time limit on electing the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, they would have explicitly mentioned the time limit as has been done by them for the election of the President of India under Article 62 (2). It shows that framers wanted to confer some discretion on the House of the People. However, it may also be true that the framers of the Constitution had never thought that the election of the Deputy Speaker would be delayed for substantive period of two years. It must be noted that even if Article 93 does not provide any rigid time limit for the election of the Deputy Speaker, it is still the bounden duty of the House of the People to take immediate steps to fill the Constitutional office to give effect to the other provisions of the Constitution and to meet the exigencies which may arise in absence of the Speaker. The burden is on the Speaker and House of the People to state the reasonable facts and circumstances to justify the non-election of Deputy Speaker for substantive period of two years.

Q 3: If the House of the People, does not elect the Deputy Speaker for substantial time without any reasonable justification, does the delay in choosing the Deputy Speaker debar the house of the people from electing him for the remaining period?

A similar question, in relation to the delay in appointment of the Speaker in Pondicherry Legislative Assembly, was raised in the case of Elumalai vs Administrator-Cum-Lt. Governor, AIR 2001 Mad 265. The petition prayed for a writ of declaration, voiding the election of the 3rd respondent as the Speaker of the Pondicherry Legislative Assembly with effect from 24-5-2000 pursuant to the election conducted on 24-5-2000. The sole ground was that the date should have been fixed for the election of the Speaker in terms of Rule 9 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the Pondicherry Legislative Assembly, in that in so far as within 15 days from the date of the first Meeting, the date for the election had not been fixed or notified the issue of notification and holding of election on 23-5-2000 and 24-5-2000 respectively is contrary to Rule 9( l)(b) of the said Rules and therefore the election of the 3rd respondent has to be declared as illegal. In other words, after the vacancy election should have been conducted within the date provided in Rule 9(l)(a) and not otherwise. The Hon'ble High court answering the said submissions held that:

"If the interpretation placed by the counsel for the petitioner on Rule 9 is to be sustained, then on the facts of the case, the office of Speakership cannot be filled up till the next Assembly after the General Election comes into being as per the statutory provisions. Such is not the object and such incongruous position is not the intention of the statutory provision or the rules. Further any portion of Rule 9 or other statutory provisions of the Act and the rules do not provide for any consequences of such deviation, namely holding the election beyond 15 days from the date of first meeting as provided in the proviso to Sub-rule (1) of Rule 9. In our considered view, even if such an election had not been conducted within the date specified or it could not be conducted for any reason either valid or invalid or if the House either adjourns the matter or if there is a deadlock, it cannot be said that there could be no election at all after the expiry of 15 days as contemplated by proviso to Sub-rule (1) of Rule 9."

It is well settled that all procedures prescribed by a statute should be complied with. However, it does not mean that failure to comply with the procedure by authorities will make the entire process otiose. It is relevant to note that Article 93 and Rule 8 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, prescribe procedure for the election, stating that it should be conducted "as soon as may", but the Constitutional and Statutory provisions have not made any express provision as to the consequence of non-compliance. Thus, failure by the House of the People to conduct election on the basis of valid or invalid grounds, should be treated directory.

Thus, the answer to question No. 3 will be in the negative. This is so because if any contrary interpretation is accepted, then the office of the Deputy Speaker will have to be kept vacant till the next House of the People is constituted. The framers of the Constitution never intended any absolute prohibition in case the election is not conducted within a certain period due to a contingency or unavoidable circumstances.

Views are personal.

The Author is an Advocate at the Supreme Court of India.


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