While upholding the decision of former Karnataka Speaker to disqualify 17 rebel MLAs on the ground of defection in the Karnataka MLAs disqualification case, the Supreme Court made some parting remarks on Speakers' acting with political prejudice.
"There is a growing trend of the Speaker acting against the constitutional duty of being neutral. Further horse trading and corrupt practices associated with defection and change of loyalty for lure of office or wrong reasons have not abated. Thereby the citizens are denied stable governments. In these circumstances, there is need to consider strengthening certain aspects, so that such undemocratic practices are discouraged and checked," the bench of Justices NV Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari remarked.
It is noteworthy that in the present case, the Supreme Court found that the Speaker's order, inasmuch as it disqualified the MLAs till the end of the term of the house i.e., till 2023, was violative of constitutional mandate.
Articles 361B and 164(1B) of the Constitution clearly stipulate that the disqualification of a member under the Tenth Schedule does not bar him from contesting elections.
Since the infirmity in the Speaker's order was severable and did not go to the root of the disqualification, the parties' rights were preserved. However, the court said that it could not overlook the manner in which the constitutional functionary had acted.
"a functionary is expected to not be vacillated by the prevailing political morality and pressures. In order to uphold the Constitution, we need to have men and women who will make a good Constitution such as ours, better," the court remarked.
The Indian politics has seen a surge in the cases of political defection and disqualification. A befitting example herein would be the case of the Speaker of Manipur assembly, Dr H. Borobabu Singh, who refused to obey the SC order whereby his order of disqualifying an MLA was set aside. Ignorance of such constitutional advice ultimately culminated into contempt proceedings against him.
Further, not long ago, the Supreme Court had set aside the orders of disqualification made by the Speaker of the Haryana State Assembly, in Speaker, Haryana Vidhan Sabha v. Kuldeep Bishnoi, (2015) 12 SCC 381.
The Speaker has been envisaged as an impartial functionary so as to maintain sanctity and purity of polity of the House. At the unveiling ceremony of the portrait of Shri Vithalbhai Patel on March 8, 1948, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had remarked,
"The Speaker represents the House. He represents the dignity of the House and because the House represents the nation, in a particular way, the Speaker becomes the symbol of the 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."
Nevertheless, the cases of inequitable conduct on part of Speakers have only ascended. Both the above mentioned cases seemingly surfaced because of the prevalent political bias of Speakers. In Ravi S. Naik v. Union of India & Ors., 1994 Supp (2) SCC 641, the Supreme Court had advised the Speakers of 'fair play' and cautioned that the principles of natural justice had an important place in modern Administrative Law.
Likewise, in the present case, the court observed,
"Speaker, being a neutral person, is expected to act independently while conducting the proceedings of the house or adjudication of any petitions. The constitutional responsibility endowed upon him has to be scrupulously followed. His political affiliations cannot come in the way of adjudication. If Speaker is not able to disassociate from his political party and behaves contrary to the spirit of the neutrality and independence, such person does not deserve to be reposed with public trust and confidence."
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