Sunday, Dec 21, 2014

Manufacturing a debate

Posted: June 2, 2014 12:38 am | Updated: June 1, 2014 11:42 pm

BY: K.C. MITTAL

The Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act nowhere prescribes a 10 per cent minimum strength as a criterion.

Subhash C. Kashyap, former secretary general, Lok Sabha, in ‘Opposition without a head’ (IE, May 29) expressed the view that, for being a “recognised party” in the House, 10 per cent minimum strength is required. As such, a member of the House belonging to a political party, even when it holds greatest numerical strength, is not entitled to leader of opposition (LoP) status in the absence of a 10 per cent strength. The debate may be a little premature, but since a public perception is being built, we need to understand the issue.

The LoP, apart from House duties, has many statutory functions to discharge in selections to high office. In the appointments of the Lokpal or judges, if the constitutional amendment is carried out, the LoP plays a crucial role. The underlying idea is to involve the opposition in major government decisions. The question is who the LoP can be and whether a 10 per cent strength is mandatory. With due respect, the view expressed by some experts is not legally tenable.

Their emphasis on Direction 121(c) by the speaker of the Lok Sabha, prescribing 10 per cent strength as one of the conditions for the LoP, is an arbitrary interpretation. Such a direction can beissued by the speaker only to regulate a matter not specifically covered by an act or the rules, and if the field is occupied, any such direction is unenforceable. In the case of the LoP, the field is occupied by a statutory provision, namely the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, which will override any direction contrary to the spirit of the act. That being the position, Direction 121(c) is of no consequence.

It must be understood that this act nowhere prescribes a 10 per cent minimum strength as a criterion for the LoP — rather, it mentions the “greatest numerical strength” as the dominant requirement. Some amount of confusion is created because of the use of the words, “recognised as such by the speaker”. Does this mean that the speaker can ignore the greatest numerical strength and pick a party having less numerical strength in comparison to the one with the biggest number? Such a situation is difficult to comprehend.

Everyone seems to be missing the meaningful explanation added to the definition of the LoP in the basic act, which has never been amended. Imagine a situation where the numerical strength of two parties is the same. The power is then given to the speaker to recognise any one of the leaders of such political parties as the LoP. His decision is final and conclusive but in the case of the “greatest numerical strength”, there is no scope for doubt. Why is such confusion being created in the minds of the public?

The terms “LoP”, “recognised party”, “recognised group” and “legislature party” are used in different legislation and the 10th continued…

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