MH Assembly Speaker
Why has the election been necessitated, and why is the Governor not consenting to the schedule proposed by the government? What do the Constitution and Rules of the Assembly say?
- Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government are locked in a tussle over the election of the Speaker of the Assembly.
- The Winter Session of the Assembly ended on December 28, but the Governor has not given his consent to the election programme recommended by the Cabinet.
- The government was exploring options on holding the election without the Governor’s consent, but appeared unlikely to decide to ultimately go through with the exercise.
- What is the constitutional position in this matter, and what is the political background to the deadlock between the Uddhav Thackeray government and Governor Koshyari?
More than two years since the Maharashtra Assembly was constituted, why has the need arisen to elect a Speaker now?
- Following the Assembly elections of 2019, Nana Patole of the Congress was elected Speaker of the House. But the post fell vacant in February 2021, after Patole resigned and was subsequently appointed president of the state Congress.
- The resignation of Patole angered the Shiv Senaand NCP, allies of the Congress in the MVA, who had not been consulted about the move.
- While Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal Sitaram of the NCP conducted the proceedings in the Legislative Assembly, the Sena and NCP continued to oppose the election of a new Speaker in the Assembly’s Budget and Monsoon Sessions, even as the Opposition BJPpressed for it.
- Governor Koshyari had forwarded the demand by Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis to Chief Minister Thackeray, who had responded that the election would be held at an appropriate time after complying with Covid-19
- After persuasion by the Congress, the MVA government has now finally decided to hold the election.
- On Friday (December 24), the state Cabinet took the decision to hold the Speaker’s election on December 28, and communicated it to the Governor.
What happened after the government wrote to the Governor?
- request him to grant his consent to the election schedule recommended by the Cabinet.
- the Governor wrote to the government stating that he was examining the constitutionality of the amendments made by the Rules Committee of the state legislature last week in order to conduct the election of the Speaker by voice vote instead of secret ballot.
- The same day, the government wrote back to the Governor saying that the amendments are constitutionally sound, and that the legislature had followed all required procedures while making the amendments.
- The government conveyed that it was keen to hold the election, and urged Raj Bhawan to act on the advice of the state Cabinet.
Why is the approval of the Governor required to elect the Speaker of the Assembly?
- Article 178 of the Constitution states: “Every Legislative Assembly of a State shall, as soon as may be, choose two members of the Assembly to be respectively Speaker and Deputy Speaker thereof and, so often as the office of Speaker or Deputy Speaker becomes vacant, the Assembly shall choose another member to be Speaker or Deputy Speaker, as the case may be.”
- The Constitution does not specify the process of holding these elections; that is left to the state legislatures.
- It also does not set a timeframe other than to say the elections should be held “as soon as may be”.
- Some states lay down timeframes: in Haryana for example, the election of the Speaker must be held as soon as possible after the Assembly election, and the Deputy Speaker must be elected within another seven days.
- In Uttar Pradesh, the Speaker’s election is required to be held within 15 days if the post falls vacant during the term of the Assembly.
- The date for the Speaker’s election is notified by the Governor. As per Rule 6 of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules, “The Governor shall fix a date for the holding of the election and the Secretary shall send to every member notice of the date so fixed.”
- A former Secretary of the state Assembly said the election of the Speaker can take place only after the Governor fixes the date for it.
What amendments were made to the Rules last week?
- Last week, the government moved a motion in the Assembly seeking amendments to Rules 6 (election of Assembly Speaker) and 7 (election of Deputy Assembly Speaker) by voice vote instead of a secret ballot.
- The amendments were proposed by the Rules Committee of the legislature.
- The amendments excluded the words “holding of the election” and included the words “to elect the Speaker on the recommendation of the Chief Minister” in Rule 6 of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules.
- The amendments also replaced the provision of election of the Speaker by “secret ballot” with “voice vote”.
- The amendments were passed by voice vote in the face of opposition from the BJP.
What are the objections to these amendments?
- The Opposition accused the MVA of running the “most insecure government” that does not trust its MLAs and fears there would be cross-voting in the election of the Speaker. The Opposition also argued that the Rules cannot be amended in the absence of the Speaker.
- The BJP said it would not be appropriate to proceed with the election in view of the fact that 12 lawmakers of the party had been suspended for a year during the Monsoon Session held in July.
- The Governor has said that he is examining whether the amendments were in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
What is the government’s position?
- The government has argued that the amendments are in line with the Rules that are in practice in Lok Sabha, the Upper House of the state legislature, and in the Assemblies of a several others states.
- It has also said that the amendments would put an end to horse-trading.
- On suspension of the BJP members, the government is said to have taken the position that the issue is separate from that of the Speaker’s election.
- It has also pointed out that Raj Bhawan is still to approve 12 names recommended by the state Cabinet for nomination to the Upper House of the state legislature through the Governor’s quota. The proposal had been sent to the Governor back in November 2020.
- On the Governor’s objection, sources in the government said it was within the powers of the legislature to amend the Rules.
- “The state legislature is empowered to amend the Rules using its powers, and there is nothing wrong in it. The amendments are constitutional. Also, the Governor had twice written to us (in February and July 2021) asking us to hold elections.
- The minister also said that the Governor does not have the authority to examine amendments and laws passed by the legislature.
- “It is the Opposition’s job to oppose and object, but here it is the Governor who is doing the obstructing,” the minister added.
So what is the way forward now?
- Sources in the government said it would explore legal options to see whether the election of the Speaker could be held without the consent of the Governor. But the former Secretary of the House said it would be difficult to hold the election.
So what is the way forward now?
- “The situation is very odd. While Rule 6 mandates that the Governor should fix the date for the election, the amendment says that the Governor should fix the date on the advice on the CM.
- It is a conflict between two constitutional entities,” the former official said.