There is no denying that Speakers have often violated their constitutional commitment to impartiality
The Supreme Court’s recent verdict on an appeal seeking the disqualification of a Manipur Assembly MLA for defection was notable for being the second SC judgment in about as many months questioning the Speaker’s role vis-a-vis the disqualification of House members. Justice RF Nariman, in the three-member bench’s judgment, exhorts Parliament to rethink whether a Speaker can be trusted to impartially respond to disqualification petitions when they “continue to belong to a particular political party.” He suggested, citing that the removal of even Supreme Court judges is decided by a procedure independent of the judiciary, that the Constitution be amended to substitute the Speaker with a permanent, external, independent tribunal to render swift and impartial decisions on disputes arising under the anti-defection law. In November, last year, Justice NV Ramana, noting the “growing trend of Speakers acting against the constitutional duty of being neutral,” too, had held that if a “Speaker is not able to disassociate from his political party and behaves contrary to the spirit of the neutrality and independence, such person does not deserve to be reposed with public trust and confidence.”
There is no denying that Speakers have often violated their constitutional commitment to impartiality. In the case of disqualifications that would damage the numerical strength of the party to which they are affiliated, this is often done by simply refusing to adjudicate on such pleas, or delaying the process. Given this, it might, perhaps, seem prudent to have an independent authority—say, the Chief Election Commissioner’s office—oversee or ratify the Speaker’s decision in such matters. However, this isn’t healthy in the long run. The SC verdict, in fact, leads down a slippery slope—what if we start viewing with suspicion the neutrality, and sanctity, of every government-nominated appointee to a public and/or constitutional office, including the CEC and judges of the apex court, on grounds that such appointment might be quid pro quo?