The present Lok Sabha first met after the election on June 17, 2019. Under Article 83(2) of the Constitution, the term of the Lok Sabha begins from the day of its first meeting and ends on the day it completes five years from that date unless it is dissolved earlier. So, the term of the present Lok Sabha will end on June 16, 2024. It has completed three years and seven months of its term. In June 2024, the 18th Lok Sabha is expected to be elected.
There are two presiding officers for the Lok Sabha, namely the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, who are elected by the members of the House. Under Article 93 of the Constitution, as soon as the House meets after the election these two presiding officers are elected one after the other. The practice followed so far has been to elect the Speaker after the oath-taking. Thereafter, within a few days, the Deputy Speaker is also elected. However, in the present Lok Sabha, the House has not elected a Deputy Speaker even after three years and seven months of its term are over. The non-election of the Deputy Speaker has now reached the Supreme Court, which has reportedly sent notice to the Union government.
The Speaker and the Deputy Speaker are described in the Constitution as officers of Parliament, which signifies their importance in the parliamentary system. There may be an impression in some quarters that the Deputy Speaker is not an indispensable office and the House can be run even without one. Considering the history of this office, it can be said surely that a Deputy Speaker is as important as the Speaker for the House. The history of the office of Deputy Speaker goes back to the government of India Act of 1919 when he was called Deputy President as the Speaker was known as the president of the central legislative assembly. Although the main functions of a Deputy Speaker were to preside over the sittings of the assembly in the absence of the Speaker and chair the select committees etc., the position was considered necessary to share the responsibility of running the House with the Speaker and guide the nascent committees.
This tradition was continued after Independence, when a Deputy Speaker was elected to chair, besides the Speaker, the meetings of the Constituent Assembly (Legislative). The first Speaker was G V Mavalankar and the first Deputy Speaker was M Ananthasayanam Ayyangar who was elected by the Constituent Assembly (Legislative) on September 3, 1948. Later under the new Constitution, he was elected the first Deputy Speaker of the House of the people on May 28, 1952. Thereafter, every Lok Sabha had a Deputy Speaker who would be elected after a few days of the election of the Speaker.
The few exceptions were S Mallikarjunaiah in the 10th Lok Sabha who was elected 33 days after the election of the Speaker, Suraj Bhan who was elected 49 days after the election of the Speaker and P M Sayeed who was elected to that office 9 months after the election of the Speaker.
The question of why a Deputy Speaker has not been elected in the 17th Lok Sabha has no ready answer. Although Article 93 says that the House shall elect the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker as soon as may be, the practice has been for the government to propose the name of the Speaker and choose a member from the Opposition as a consensus candidate for the post of Deputy Speaker.
This practice was not strictly followed only on some occasions. Otherwise, choosing an Opposition member as the Deputy Speaker has been, by and large, followed as a healthy convention. But if a government does not favour an Opposition member for political reasons, it is free to choose a member from its own party.
Constitutionally, the government has not been assigned any role in the election of the Deputy Speaker. As per Rule 8 of the Rules and Procedure of Lok Sabha it is the Speaker who has to fix the date of the election of the Deputy Speaker. Once the date is fixed, any member can propose the name of any other member through a motion for the consideration of the House. The House can then proceed to elect its Deputy Speaker. But in reality, it is the government which initiates the political process of the consultation with other parties and works out a consensus. If this does not work, the government can propose the name of its own member for this position. There can be another way which, of course, is very unconventional and which has never been tried. Since it is the Speaker who has to set the process in motion by fixing the date and he has not done it so far, any member of the House can move a resolution requesting the Speaker to fix the date.
The treasury benches cannot oppose such a resolution as it is aimed at implementing the constitutional mandate. The date of election of the Speaker is decided by the President who needs to go by the advice of the Union cabinet which, in fact, chooses the date. In the case of the Speaker, there is no constitutional requirement for him to wait for the advice of the Union cabinet in fixing the date of election of the Deputy Speaker. However, the political reality is different.
In the context in which we are discussing this issue it will be interesting to note that the Deputy Speaker has the same power as the Speaker when he presides over a sitting of the House. Similarly no appeal lies to the Speaker against a ruling given by the Deputy Speaker. So the Speaker is powerless in the matter of revising or overruling a decision of the Deputy Speaker. Under Article 95(1) of the Constitution, the Deputy Speaker gets all the powers of the Speaker when the office of the Speaker is vacant, so the Deputy Speaker can also determine the petitions relating to disqualification under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution.
Although the Deputy Speaker gets to exercise these powers only in the absence of the Speaker his decisions are final and binding when he gives a ruling. In the eventuality of the Speaker remaining absent for a longer time due to illness or otherwise the government will have to grapple with the unpredictability of a ruling or an adverse decision by a Deputy Speaker who comes from the Opposition ranks. Maybe by not electing the Deputy Speaker someone decided to err on the side of caution. But now that the Supreme Court is seized of the matter the status quo may be disturbed. Article 93 contains a mandatory provision which needs to be carried out by the House.
The writer is former secretary general, Lok Sabha