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Why we need a Deputy Chairman and Deputy Speaker

By Dr RUP NARAYAN DAS
September 12, 2020 11:54 IST
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The activities of the two secretariats over the years have increased many folds which involve manpower planning, judicious and prudent financial management, transfer, postings of senior officials, meeting the grievances of the officials and staff, reveals Rup Narayan Das.

Photograph: PTI Photo

Ahead of Parliament's monsoon session beginning from Monday, September 14, there has been a demand to fill up both the posts of Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

While the post of Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha has not been filled up ever since the constitution of the present Lok Sabha, the post of Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha has been lying vacant when the Rajya Sabha tenure of Harivansh, who held the position earlier, ended in April this year.

Harivansh has been re-elected to the Rajya Sabha and his nomination for the post of Deputy Chairman has been filed.

Even if the Vice-President is the ex-officio chairman of the Rajya Sabha and there is the position of Lok Sabha Speaker, the need and rationale for their deputies can hardly be over emphasised.

These two posts are not ceremonial, rather substantive, which are stipulated in the Constitution itself.

Article 91 of the Constitution provides that while the office of Chairman is vacant, or during any period when the Vice-President is acting, or discharging the functions of President, the duties of the office shall be performed by the Deputy Chairman, or if the office of Deputy Chairman is also vacant, by such member of the Council of State as the President may appoint for the purpose.

It further mentions that during the absence of the Chairman from any sitting of the House, the Deputy Chairman, or, if no such person, as may be determined by the Council shall act as Chairman.

Similar Constitutional provisions are there in respect to the position of the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

Presiding over the House, when Parliament is in session, itself is not only time consuming, but also taxing and stressful at times.

It may not always be possible on part of either the Chairman or the Speaker to preside over the sittings.

In such situations, the Deputy Chairman or Deputy Speaker discharge and relieve the responsibility of the Chairman or the Speaker as the case may be.

Besides presiding over the sittings, both the Presiding Officers are entrusted with other responsibilities such as nominating members from different political parties for the Parliamentary Committees, and also nominating their chairman, chairing the Business Advisory Committee and the all-party meetings.

All these positional roles entail quality time, mental energy and application of mind and as such at times they need to be relieved of routine duties which can be performed by the Deputy Chairman or Deputy Speaker in a befitting manner.

Moreover, the presiding officers of both the Houses are also the administrative heads of the two secretariats which are independent of the executive.

The activities of the two secretariats over the years have increased many folds which involve manpower planning, judicious and prudent financial management, transfer, postings of senior officials, meeting the grievances of the officials and staff.

In addition to all these functions, the presiding officers of the two Houses quite often meet the ambassadors and envoys of the foreign countries who call on them to promote goodwill between parliaments and to extend invitations for the visits.

Similarly, the presiding officers lead Parliamentary delegations abroad.

All these institutional and positional responsibilities take away considerable time of the incumbent presiding officers.

There is thus a felt need to unburden part of these responsibilities by the second in command in the institutional set-up.

The election for the post of the Deputy Chairman will be held on Monday and Harivansh is likely to be declared elected as he is supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

As regards the Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker the government has to take a call.

It is for the first time since 1969 that the position has not been filled.

Usually, a senior member of a friendly Opposition party is offered the position as a political gesture.

Sachidanand Sinha was the first Deputy Speaker of the Central Legislative Assembly and Thambi Durai of the AIADMK was the Deputy Speaker of the 16th Lok Sabha.

The name of veteran Parliamentarian Bhartruhari Mahtab was mentioned earlier as the frontrunner for the position considering the friendly demeanour of his party, the Biju Janata Dal, towards the BJP.

As regards the Deputy Speaker's election, Article 93 of the Constitution says that the House shall choose the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, but unless the ruling party commanding majority support proposes a name, the process of selection cannot be set in motion.

The procedure for choosing the Deputy Speaker is the same is the same as for the Speaker, except that the date for the Deputy Speaker's election is fixed by the Speaker.

Rup Narayan Das, PhD, is a senior fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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