Meghalaya Speaker dismisses Congress’ disqualification plea against 12 deserters
- Meghalaya Speaker rejected Congress’ plea to disqualify its 12 MLAs who deserted the party and joined TMC and declared their move as ‘valid’ under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution.
- The 10th Schedule of the Constitution contains provisions relating to disqualification on the ground of defection. It was included under the 52nd Constitution Amendment Act, also called Anti Defection Act (1985).
- The Tenth Schedule was inserted in the Constitution in by 52nd Amendment Act, 1985.
Lays down the Procedure:
- It lays down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection by the Presiding Officer of a legislature based on a petition by any other member of the House.
Condition of Defection:
- A legislator is deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily gives up the membership of his party or disobeys the directives of the party leadership on a vote.
- This implies that a legislator defying (abstaining or voting against) the party whip on any issue can lose his membership of the House.
- The law applies to both Parliament and state assemblies.
Exceptions in Law:
- Legislators may change their party without the risk of disqualification in certain circumstances.
- The law allows a party to merge with or into another party provided that at least two-thirds of its legislators are in favor of the merger.
- In such a scenario, neither the members who decide to merge, nor the ones who stay with the original party will face disqualification.
- Interpretation by Courts: The Supreme Court has interpreted different provisions of the law.
- The phrase ‘Voluntarily gives up his membership’ has a wider connotation than resignation
- The law provides for a member to be disqualified if he ‘voluntarily gives up his membership’.
- However, the Supreme Court has interpreted that in the absence of a formal resignation by the member, the giving up of membership can be inferred by his conduct.
- In other judgments, members who have publicly expressed opposition to their party or support for another party were deemed to have resigned.
- Decision of the Presiding Officer is subject to judicial review
- Initially it was not subject to Judicial Review:
- The law initially stated that the decision of the Presiding Officer is not subject to judicial review.
- This condition was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1992, thereby allowing appeals against the Presiding Officer’s decision in the High Court and Supreme Court.
- However, it held that there may not be any judicial intervention until the Presiding Officer gives his order.
- It affects the ability of legislators to make decisions:
- The anti-defection law seeks to provide a stable government by ensuring the legislators do not switch sides.
- However, this law also restricts a legislator from voting in line with his conscience, judgment and interests of his electorate.
- Such a situation impedes the oversight function of the legislature over the government, by ensuring that members vote based on the decisions taken by the party leadership, and not what their constituents would like them to vote for.
- The law aims at providing stability to the Government by punishing members in case of any party shifts on their parts.
- Also, anti-defection laws try to bring about a sense of loyalty of the members towards their own party.
- This it tries to achieve by ensuring that the members selected in the name of the party and its support as well as the party manifesto remain loyal to the political party of which he is a member and its policies.
Time Limit for Presiding Officer:
- The law does not specify a time-period for the Presiding Officer to decide on a disqualification plea.
- Given that courts can intervene only after the Presiding Officer has decided on the matter, the petitioner seeking disqualification has no option but to wait for this decision to be made.
- There have been several cases where the Courts have expressed concern about the unnecessary delay in deciding such petitions.
- In some cases this delay in decision making has resulted in members, who have defected from their parties, continuing to be members of the House.
- There have also been instances where opposition members have been appointed ministers in the government while still retaining the membership of their original parties in the legislature.
Ambiguous Nature of Split:
- In recent years, opposition MLAs in some states, such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, have broken away in small groups gradually to join the ruling party.
- In some of these cases, more than 2/3rd of the opposition has defected to the ruling party.
- In these scenarios, the MLAs were subject to disqualification while defecting to the ruling party in smaller groups.
- However, it is not clear if they will still face disqualification if the Presiding Officer makes a decision after more than 2/3rd of the opposition has defected to the ruling party.
Defecting to party forming Government after election:
- There have been instances wherein after the declaration of election results, winning candidates have resigned from their membership of the House as well as the party from which they got elected.
- Immediately, they have joined the political party which has formed the government and have again contested from that political party, which appears to be a fraud and goes against the spirit of the democracy and 52nd constitutional amendment.
Power to the Speaker:
- One of the major criticisms of this power is that it is not necessary that the speaker has legal knowledge and expertise to look upon and perform such acts in such cases.
- No Freedom to go against party whip
- A political party acts as a dictator for its members who are not allowed to dissent. In this way it violates the principle of representative democracy wherein the members are forced to obey the high command.
Problem with merger provision:
- The provision tends to safeguard the members of a political party where the original political party merges with another party subject to the condition that at least two-third of the members of the legislature party concerned have agreed to such merger.