The Maharashtra Legislative Assembly has been without a Speaker for most of this year. Last week, it concluded its two-day Monsoon Session without electing a Speaker. The previous Speaker was Nana Patole of the Congress, elected to the post in 2019 following the Assembly elections. Since Patole’s resignation from office in February this year, Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal Sitaram of the NCP has been at the helm of proceedings in the Legislative Assembly.
Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis has been demanding that the post of the Speaker be filled, and Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has forwarded the demand to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. The Chief Minister has responded that the election to the Speaker’s post would be held at an appropriate time after complying with Covid protocols. He mentioned that the Constitution and the Assembly rules do not specify a time-frame for filling a vacancy in the post of Speaker.
While the Speaker’s chair is currently vacant in Maharashtra, the Deputy Speaker’s position is vacant in several other state legislatures as well as Lok Sabha. Information available on the websites of large state legislatures shows the position of Deputy Speaker vacant in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand.
In Maharashtra, during Fadnavis’s tenure as Chief Minister, the office of Deputy Speaker was vacant for four years. In Lok Sabha, an election for Deputy Speaker has not taken place since the beginning of the 17th Lok Sabha in June 2019. It is the longest period in the history of Lok Sabha that this position has been vacant.
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The Constitution specifies offices like those of the President, Vice President, Chief Justice of India, and Comptroller and Auditor General of India, as well as Speakers and Deputy Speakers. Article 93 for Lok Sabha and Article 178 for state Assemblies state that these Houses “shall, as soon as may be”, choose two of its members to be Speaker and Deputy Speaker.
The Constitution neither sets a time limit nor specifies the process for these elections. It leaves it to the legislatures to decide how to hold these elections. In Lok Sabha and state legislatures, the President/Governor sets a date for the election of the Speaker, and it is the Speaker who decides the date for the election of the Deputy Speaker. The legislators of the respective Houses vote to elect one among themselves to these offices.
Haryana and Uttar Pradesh specify a time-frame for holding the election to the Speaker and Deputy Speaker’s offices. In Haryana, the election of the Speaker has to take place as soon as possible after the election. And then the Deputy Speaker is to be elected within seven more days. The rules also specify that if a vacancy in these offices happens subsequently, then the election for these should occur within seven days of the legislature’s next session.
Uttar Pradesh has a 15-day limit for an election to the Speaker’s post if it falls vacant during the term of the Assembly. In the case of the Deputy Speaker, the date for the first election is to be decided by the Speaker, and 30 days is given for filling subsequent vacancies.
The Constitution provides that the office of the Speaker should never be empty. So, he continues in office until the beginning of the next House, except in the event of death or resignation.
According to the book Practice and Procedure of Parliament, published by the Lok Sabha Secretariat, the Speaker is “the principal spokesman of the House, he represents its collective voice and is its sole representative to the outside world”. The Speaker presides over the House proceedings and joint sittings of the two Houses of Parliament. It is the Speaker’s decision that determines whether a Bill is a Money Bill and therefore outside of the purview of the other House.
The Deputy Speaker is independent of the Speaker, not subordinate to him, as both are elected from among the members of the House.
Since Independence, the Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker’s position has grown in importance. In addition to presiding over the House in the absence of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker chaired committees both inside and outside of Parliament. For example, M Thambidurai, the Deputy Speaker of the previous Lok Sabha, headed the Lok Sabha Committee on Private Members Bills and Resolutions, and the committee that looked at the MP Local Area Development Scheme. He also chaired several committees formed under the aegis of the conference of presiding officers of legislative bodies in India.
The Deputy Speaker ensures the continuity of the Speakers office by acting as the Speaker when the office becomes vacant (by death, as in the case of the first Lok Sabha Speaker G V Mavalankar in 1956, and G M C Balayogi in 2002, or because of resignation by Speaker N Sanjiva Reddy in 1977 for fighting the Presidential election.). In addition, when a resolution for removal of the Speaker (as in 1987 against Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar) is up for discussion, the Constitution specifies that the Deputy Speaker presides over the proceedings of the House.
Usually, the Speaker comes from the ruling party. In the case of the Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, the position has varied over the years. Until the fourth Lok Sabha, the Congress held both the Speaker and Deputy Speakers positions. In the fifth Lok Sabha, whose term was extended due to the Emergency, an independent member, Shri G G Swell, was elected the Deputy Speaker.
The tradition for the post of the Deputy Speaker going to the Opposition party started during the term of Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s government. The two subsequent Lok Sabhas had members from the DMK (G Lakshmanan) and AIADMK (Thambidurai, in his first stint in this position) becoming Deputy Speaker. During the governments of PMs V P Singh and Chandra Sekhar, Shivraj Patil of the Congress was the Deputy Speaker.
The first time the Deputy Speaker’s position went to the BJP was during the term of Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. In the 13th Lok Sabha, during the tenure of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Congress MP P M Sayeed became the Deputy Speaker. In Prime Minister’s Manmohan Singh’s two terms, the Deputy Speaker’s position went first to the Shiromani Akali Dal and then to the BJP. Then in the 16th Lok Sabha, the office of Deputy Speaker was again occupied by Thambidurai, whose party, AIADMK, was an ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
The author is Head of Outreach, PRS Legislative Research