Leader of Opposition Not only Required To Be Leader Of Largest Recognised Party But Also Required To Be Recognised As Such By Speaker: Gauhati High Court Upholds Notification of Withdrawal
While dismissing a petition seeking direction against the notification issued by the Secretary, Assam Legislative Assembly, withdrawing recognition of the Leader of Opposition on the ground of not meeting the quorum, Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua, observed, “Article 208 of the Constitution gives a discretion to the Speaker to frame the Rules for conducting of its business of the House and any such distinction being brought in by the Speaker between the concept of Legislature Party requiring one-sixth of the Members of the House and the concept of Legislature Group having a strength of less than one-sixth of the Members of the House would have to be construed to be a valid provision in the absence of any material being brought or the provision itself being assailed on the ground of being arbitrary.”
Facts of the case are briefly mentioned hereunder;
- That the petitioner, Sri Debabrata Saikia was elected as a member to the 14th Assam Legislative Assembly, as a candidate of INC.
- That the Legislative Assembly was informed on 30.06.2016, through a letter from Sri Ripun Bora, the President of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee informing that Sri Debabrata Saikia had unanimously been nominated as the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party with effect from 03.06.2016.
- That subsequently, a notification dated 04.06.2016 by the Principal Secretary to the Assam Legislative Assembly was issued, recognizing the aforementioned appointment.
- That by a notification dated 01.01.2021 by the Secretary to the Assam Legislative Assembly, the appointment of Sri Debabrata Saikia was withdrawn stating that present strength of the INC Legislature Party in the Assembly is not equal to the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting, that is, one-sixth of the total number of the Members of the House.
- That this notification dated 01.01.2021 withdrawing the recognition of Sri Debabrata Saikia, as the Leader of Opposition, is assailed in the present writ petition.
The aforementioned announcements/notifications were issued in accordance with Section 2 of the Salary and Allowances of the Leader of Opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly Act 1978 read with Rule 2(1)(p) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Assam Legislative Assembly and Clause 11(2)(i)(c) of the Directions by the Speaker Assam Legislative Assembly.
Counsel for the petitioner, Mr. S. Sarma made a twofold submission. The first contention put forth was that the provisions of Direction 11 of the Directions by the Speaker of the Assam Legislative Assembly providing for the concept of ‘Legislature Party’ and ‘Legislature Group’ cannot be made applicable for understanding the expression ‘Leader of the Opposition’ as the same has clearly been defined under Rule 2(p) of the Rules of Procedure in Assembly as well as in the Salary and Allowances Act, 1978. The second submission by Mr. S. Sarma is that the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution, wherein the term ‘Legislature Party’ has been defined, does not mention of any discretion that was earlier available with Speaker under the Rules of Procedure in Assembly, to give a meaning to the concept ‘Legislature Party’.
Counsel for the respondents 2 and 4, Mr. D. Saikia submitted that, according to the definition under Rule 2(p) and Section 2, a Leader of Opposition is not only required to be the Leader of the largest recognized party in the Opposition but is also required to be recognized as such by the Speaker. The requirement of being recognized by the Speaker is a mandatory requirement which cannot be dispensed with. Further, it was contended that if an association of Members would not be recognized by the Speaker to be a Legislature Party, but recognized as a Legislature Group, such recognition would not be a recognition as the largest recognized party in the Opposition.
As the recognition as a Legislature Party has a requirement that the association of the Members shall have at least a strength equal to the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting, that is, one-sixth of the total number of the Members of the House, therefore, for the purpose of recognizing or withdrawing the recognition of the Leader of Opposition there is a relevance that the Leader of the party in Opposition in the House claiming to have the greatest numerical strength or to be the largest recognized party in the Opposition should also satisfy the requirement that the association of the Members comprising of such party should have one-sixth of the total number of the Members of the House. Accordingly, it is the submission of the respondent that since the numerical strength of the INC Party came below 21, the quorum required, the recognition of the INC Party as a ‘Legislature Party’ demanded a withdrawal and therefore, Sri Debabrata Saikia, was issued the impugned notification.
With a view to discourage multiplication of parties and growth of splinter groups, Speaker Sri Mavalankar, the first speaker of the LS, laid down general principles based on which recognition can be given to political parties for their parliamentary work in the Lok Sabha and these principles were later embodied in the Directions by the Speaker. The Directions by the Speaker so embodied contained the concept that in order to form a Parliamentary Party in the Lok Sabha, the requisite condition to be satisfied also contained that the Members who proposed to form a Parliamentary Party should at least be able to command a strength which would enable them to keep the House, that is, their number should not be less than the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting of the House, which was one-tenth of the total membership of the Lok Sabha.
On the interpretation of ‘Leader of Opposition’ under Rule 2(p) and Section 2 of the Salary and Allowances Act, 1978
“A reading of both the provisions make it discernable that in order to be recognized as the Leader of Opposition, the Leader of the largest recognized party in the Opposition or the Leader of the party in Opposition in the House having the greatest numerical strength would also have to be recognized as such by the Hon’ble Speaker. The expression ‘recognized as such by the Speaker’ in both the definitions is provided in conjunction with the other provisions of the definitions i.e. the Leader of largest recognized party in the Opposition or the Leader of the party in Opposition in the House having greatest numerical strength…
In view of the two provisions being conjunctive with each other, any Member of the House who is not as such recognized by the Hon’ble Speaker to be the Leader of the largest recognized party in the Opposition or the Leader of the party in opposition in the House having the greatest numerical strength, would not satisfy the requirements of being the ‘Leader of Opposition.”
Reliance was placed on A.G. Beauchamp (1920) 1 KB 650 and R v. Oakes, (1959) 2 All ER 92, for interpretation of the word ‘and’ occurring in the definition of Leader of Opposition in Rule 2(p). Relevant Rules were further reproduced by the court pursuant to its discussion.
On application of Tenth Schedule
Court observed, “Tenth Schedule to the Constitution of India and the Rules of Procedures in Assembly framed by the Speaker under Article 208 of the Constitution are for two entirely different and unrelated purposes, it would have to be accepted that the meaning given to the expression Legislature Party in Paragraph 1(b) of the Tenth Schedule cannot be imported to give a different meaning to the same expression Legislature Party as contemplated in the Rules of Procedure in Assembly made under Article 208 of the Constitution and the directions by the Speaker made under Rule 315 of the said Rules.”
Court clarified stating that, “Tenth Schedule is for the purpose of disqualification of a Member of a House for voluntarily giving up the membership of the political party or for voting or abstain from voting in a manner contrary to any direction that may be issued by the political party and the meaning given to the expression ‘Legislature Party’ in Paragraph 1(b) has a reasonable nexus and relevance to the purpose for which the Tenth Schedule was brought in. On the other hand, the Rules of Procedure in Assembly framed by the Speaker is under Article 208 of the Constitution of India which empowers a House of the Legislature of a State to make rules for regulating its procedure and conduct of its business subject to the provisions of the Constitution. The Rules of Procedures in Assembly framed under Article 208 would be for the purpose to regulate the procedures and conduct of its business by the House of the Legislature.”
Reliance was placed in this regard to the decision of the Top Court in MSM Sharma v. Sri Krishna Sinha, AIR 1959 SC 395.
On the contention that recognition of INC can be withdrawn by the Election Commission only
“Any recognition or withdrawal of recognition of an association of Members in the House as a Legislature Party or otherwise would have no bearing on the recognition of a group of individuals calling itself to be a political party and being recognized as a recognized party and the process of recognition of an association of Members of a House as a Legislature Party or otherwise is not within the domain of the Election Commission, but under the Rules it is within the domain of the Speaker of the House.”
Case Title: Debabrata Saikia v. Hon’ble Speaker, Assam Legislative Assembly & Ors | WP (C)/182/2021
Statute/Law point involved: Section 2 of the Salary and Allowances of the Leader of Opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly Act 1978 read with Rule 2(1)(p) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Assam Legislative Assembly and Clause 11(2)(i)(c) of the Directions by the Speaker Assam Legislative Assembly
Article 102 (2), Article 118, Article 191(2), Article 208, Constitution of India.