EVEN AS it acknowledged the authority of the Speaker in a Parliamentary democracy, the Supreme Court Monday said the court would not hesitate to correct a Speaker if he says “blue is green”. The court was hearing a PIL filed by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who had challenged the Speaker’s decision to treat the Aadhaar bill as a money bill. The bill was passed during the Budget session in 2016 after overruling the amendments moved in Rajya Sabha.
“Yes, we have identified the role and authority of the Speaker. But if the Speaker says blue is green, we will ask the Speaker to say it is blue…that we will set right,” said a bench led by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar. The bench, also comprising Justice N V Ramana, added: “When we go wrong, larger benches set aside our orders and correct it. So why cannot we do it (vis a vis Speaker)?”
Representing Ramesh, senior lawyer and a former minister in the UPA government P Chidambaram said that Aadhaar, by no standard, could be certified by the Speaker as a money bill since it did not meet the conditions of Article 110(1) of the Constitution. “On the face of it, we can show that it cannot be called a money bill. The conditions are clear that a bill can be certified as a money bill if it contains ‘only’ such provisions that deal with the aspects mentioned under Article 110,” argued Chidambaram.
He said that there was an apprehension that any bill could be certified as a money bill to dispense with the need to seek majority in the Rajya Sabha since a money bill could very well be passed by the Lok Sabha itself. Dealing with the previous judgments of the apex court, Chidambaram contended that power of judicial review was not curtailed in cases of substantive infraction of the provisions of the law and that the decision of the Speaker could be deemed to be final only in cases of procedural irregularities. “This court has held that if there are unconstitutionality and substantive infractions, decision of the Speaker could also be judicially reviewed,” he said.
Countering his views, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said that judgments have held that the court had no power to sit in appeal over the decisions of the Speaker and that proceedings inside the House were immune. “The Speaker is a high constitutional functionary. It cannot be argued that the Speaker would certify all bills as money bills. There is no question of this court examining the Speaker’s decision,” said Rohatgi.
Disagreeing with the AG’s argument, the bench retorted that it appreciated the Speaker’s peculiar position in the parliamentary democracy but the court also had the power to correct his decisions if they were brazenly wrong. At this, Rohatgi said that Aadhaar was passed as a money bill since it had to withdraw money from the consolidated fund of India. “Under Article 110(1), there is a provision that a bill can be passed as a money bill if its deals with provisions ‘incidental’ to the other essential conditions,” he said.
The bench, on its part, accepted the AG’s argument to some extent and told Chidambaram that he would have to convince the court why they should interfere with the Speaker’s decision. “Tentatively, we are not with you but you can definitely convince us on the next date,” said the bench, adjourning the matter for four weeks. A Constitution Bench is expected to sit during the summer vacation in May-June to adjudicate a clutch of petition on the validity of Aadhaar, especially in view of the concerned regarding right to privacy.