The Supreme Court has issued notices on a petition highlighting the vacant posts of Deputy Speakers in Lok Sabha and five state assemblies for years.
The PIL flagged that the constituionally-mandated office of Deputy Speaker is vacant for years in the Lok Sabha and five state assemblies of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan.
The petition, filed by Advocate Shariq Ahmed, has sought directions from the Supreme Court to Lok Sabha and concerned state assemblies to hold Deputy Speakers' elections at the earliest.
In addition to issuing notices, the Supreme Court has also asked Attorney General R Venkataramani to assist in the matter. The petition is tentatively listed to be heard next on February 27, according to the case details on the Supreme Court's website.
In the PIL, Ahmed highlighted that the Deputy Speaker is a constitutional post and the vacancy is "depriving the public at large of their right to be governed as per the Constitutional mandate", according to a copy of the PIL with Outlook.
Deputy Speakers are constitutional posts
The Deputy Speakers of the Lok Sabha and state assemblies are constitutional offices.
Article 93 of the Constitution of India establishes the post of the Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha and Articles 94-96 detail their appointment, removal, and powers. In the absence of the Speaker, the Deputy Speakder serves as the Speaker and wields full powers of the Speaker.
The election to the post of Deputy Speaker takes place after the Speaker has been elected. There has been no Deputy Speaker in the current Lok Sabha since 2019.
M Laxmikanth in his book Indian Polity notes that the Deputy Speaker is not subordinate to the Speaker and is directly responsible to the House. There is also a strong bipartisan tradition associated with the post of the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, writes Laxmikanth.
He writes, "Up to the 10th Lok Sabha, both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker were usually from the ruling party. Since the 11th Lok Sabha, there has been a consensus that the Speaker comes from the ruling party (or ruling alliance) and the post of Deputy Speaker goes to the main Opposition party."
The last Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha during 2014-19 was Dr. M. Thambi Durai of the AIADMK. During the Congress-led UPA rule during 2004-14, the Deputy Speakers were Charnjit Singh Atwal of the then-BJP ally Shiromany Akali Dal (SAD) during 2004-09 and Kariya Munda of BJP during 2009-14.
Similar constitutional provisions exist for the Deputy Speaker of state assemblies. Article 178 of the Constitution establishes the post of Deputy Speaker of assemblies and Articles 179-181 deal with their powers and appointment or resignation.
Speaking to Outlook, petitioner Ahmed said that the Constitution says the appointments shall be made "as soon as may be" possible. He further said that whiile there are Lok Sabha and assembly secretariats with its own staff, there are only two constitutional posts of Speaker and Deputy Speaker in the House.
Lack of Deputy Speaker a bipartisan issue
Besides being a Constitutional post, the convention of Deputy Speaker being from the Opposition brings a degree of fairness to the proceedings to the House. However, parties across the aisle have shown lack of interest in electing the Deputy Speaker.
Speaking to Outlook, petitioner Ahmed flagged that Uttar Pradesh did not have a Deputy Speaker for 14 years during 2007-21.
He said, "In 2021, towards the fag end of the assembly's tenure, Nitin Agrawal was elected as the Deputy Speaker. But there has been no Deputy Speaker since the new assembly was reelected last year. Similarly, there has been no Deputy Speaker in Uttarakhand and Rajasthan assemblies since their last elections in 2022 and 2018 respectively."
In Madhya Pradesh, there was originally a Deputy Speaker but the post has been vacant since the change of government mid-way in March 2020, said Ahmed.
Speaking further about the post of Deputy Speaker, Ahmed said that the importance of the post can be understood from the fact that there are only two constitutionally-mandated posts in the House —Speaker and Deputy Speaker— and one of them is vacant for a long time. The vacant post of the Deputy Speaker is therefore a non-fulfilment of a Constitutional mandate, said Ahmed.