The decision of the BJP-led government to suspend 19 opposition legislators from the Maharashtra Assembly for nine months has created a furore in the state. The move has once again brought to the fore the question of efficacy of suspension as a means of disciplining legislators.
Since 1960, the Maharashtra Assembly Speaker has suspended 300 legislators for misconduct. This number does not include the 19 suspended on Wednesday. Incidentally only 172 legislators who account for 57 per cent of the 300 suspended legislators have served their full punishment, with the House sooner than later revoking its decision to punish the legislators.
The state has over the past few decades become even more liberal in revoking the punishments of suspended legislators. Since 1999 there were 104 MLAs who were suspended.
However, almost 81 per cent suspensions (84 MLAs) were revoked.
According to the rules of proceedings, the Speaker of a House, once a motion is made against a particular legislator, can suspend him for disregarding the authority of the chair or abusing the rules of the House. Unlike certain states like Odisha which mandate that a member can’t be suspended for a period of more than seven working days, in states like Maharashtra, legislators can be suspended for an indefinite period. The legislator during this time cannot attend the Assembly.
Critics of suspension claim that it affects not only the legislators but also the people who elect the representative as he is not able to voice their issue in the supreme democratic body.
In November 2014, five Congress MLAs were suspended for two years for allegedly manhandling and heckling Governor C Vidyasagar Rao.
Their suspension was revoked in December 2014. Political analysts and citizen groups have pointed out a greater need for bringing in transparency in the way suspensions are handed out and revoked.
The punishment ranges from suspension for a day to cancellation of membership. The only legislator to see his membership being taken away was the Forward Bloc’s Jambuwantrao Dhote whose membership was cancelled after he threw a paperweight while being escorted out by the security officers.
However, other members of the Assembly have been lucky. Only 57 per cent of the legislators ever served their full sentence with the Speaker revoking the punishment of 128 legislators.
Pre-1999 the Speaker seemed to have wielded a firm hand in ensuring that offending members were punished.
During the period from 1960 till 1999, 196 MLAs were suspended of whom the suspension of only 21 per cent (44 legislators) legislators was revoked.
People have complained that the entire process of suspension as well as revocation was completely arbitrary with a lot of powers vested in the Speaker who generally hails from the ruling party.