The question “Discuss the role of Presiding Officers of state legislatures in maintaining order and impartiality in conducting legislative work and in facilitating best democratic practices." was asked in the Mains 2023 GS Paper 2. Let us look at the model answer to this question.
Answer: Article 178 of Indian Constitution establishes the office of Speaker and Deputy Speaker in State legislative assemblies. Their role is pivotal in ensuring that the legislative process functions smoothly and upholds the principles of democracy.
Role of Presiding Officers of State Legislatures in Maintaining Order and Impartiality in Conducting Legislative Work
- Conducting Sessions: Speakers preside over legislative sessions, overseeing debates and ensuring members adhere to legislative rules.
- For Example: Prorogation and adjournment of sessions.
- Orderly Debates: These officers play a vital role in ensuring that debates remain civil and respectful. They can call members to order if they engage in personal attacks, use offensive language, or disrupt proceedings, contributing to the quality of discussions.
- Rule Enforcement: State legislatures have established rules governing debate and discussion procedures. Presiding Officers are responsible for enforcing these rules, such as addressing points of order, motion admissibility etc.
- Facilitating Discussion: Presiding Officers strike a balance between encouraging robust debate and maintaining order by allocating speaking time and recognizing members who wish to speak, ensuring inclusivity.
- Committee Appointments: They often participate in appointing members to various committees, ensuring fair and balanced representation to facilitate effective legislative work.
Role of Presiding Officers of State Legislatures in Maintaining Order and Impartiality in Facilitating Best Democratic Practices
- Applying Precedents: Presiding Officers refer to past rulings and precedents to make consistent and fair decisions ensuring accountability of legislators towards citizens of the democracy.
- Impartiality: In the case of a tied vote, Presiding Officers typically possess the casting vote, which can be decisive in legislative matters, underscoring the importance of their impartiality. This is essential for building trust among lawmakers and imparting objectivity
- Consulting with Party Leaders: Presiding Officers often hold meetings with leaders of different political parties to discuss the agenda and maintain consensus on conducting proceedings. This ensures participation of all the political voices in democracy.
- Empowerment: Presiding Officers in various states work towards capacity building of local bodies to improve their functioning, as seen in Karnataka and Mizoram.
Concerns Relating to Presiding Officer
- Partisanship: Despite the expectation of impartiality, Presiding Officers may sometimes exhibit bias towards their own political party, leading to concerns about fairness in the conduct of legislative proceedings.
- Lack of Independence: In some cases, Presiding Officers are perceived as being influenced by the executive branch or party leadership, compromising their ability to act independently and in the best interests of the legislature..
- Abuse of Power: There are instances where Presiding Officers have been accused of using their authority to stifle debate, limit opposition voices, or advance their own political agenda, undermining the principles of democracy.
- Lack of Transparency: Concerns may arise about the transparency of the Presiding Officer's decisions and actions, especially when it comes to matters such as committee appointments or setting the legislative agenda.
- Limited Accountability: In certain cases, there may be inadequate mechanisms for holding Presiding Officers accountable for their actions or decisions, raising questions about accountability in the legislative process.
- For Example: Delay in proceeding regarding Anti-Defection in Manipur State Assembly.
Our constitutional maker envisaged integrity and impartiality from the Presiding Officers of state legislatures. Conventions, like in Britain, where speaker resigns from his party after joining the office (which increases credibility and impartiality) can be implemented as well. Democratic ethos should be upheld as suggested in lines of NCRCW to empower this office which forms bedrock of our Parliamentary Democracy.