Leader of opposition

Law rules out party status or perks for this opposition
Subhash C Kashyap,TNN | Jun 29, 2014, 06.41 AM IST
An uncalled for controversy over the leader of the opposition (LOP) in the 16th Lok Sabha (LS) has been created by those with vested interests, and it refuses to die down.

The position in regard to recognition of parliamentary parties and of LOP is crystal clear in parliamentary procedure and practice, as also under the statute law. To make a sitting of the House, the LOP and his party requires a minimum of 10 % of total membership of the House. This requirement of 55 members is based on a deeper principle of parliamentary polity and history going back to British Parliament.

In the first LS in 1952, the single largest party in opposition was the Communist Party (CP) with 30 members. It was recognized as a group, not a parliamentary party. No party had even the required minimum number of 30 for recognition as a group in the second LS. In the third, the largest party in opposition was again the CP, this time with 34 members; the fourth LS, the Swatantra Party emerged as the largest party in opposition with 45 members — one more than the Congress in the present House. Both terms, the parties were recognized only as groups, along with Jan Sangh which had 31 members.

For the first time, in 1969, after the split in the Congress Party, Congress (O) with 60 members was recognized as the opposition party and its leader as the LOP.

This lasted for about one year only. In the fifth LS again, no parliamentary groups; in 1977, the sixth LS, Janata Party with 153 members became the ruling party while the Congress sat in opposition. Following splits in Congress and Janata Party, Congress (I) with 58 members and Janata Party (S) with 68 members were recognized as parliamentary parties.

There were no recognized parliamentary parties in opposition in the seventh and eighth LS (1980-89); parties with 30 members or more like Janata-S (41 members) in 7th LS and Telugu Desam (30 members) in 8th LS were all recognized as groups only. The 9th to 15th LS, spanning 1989-2014, parties in opposition and LOP were duly recognized because the mandate of a party having a minimum of 55 members was fulfilled.

In as much as a parliamentary system works on precedents and practices, it should be seen that right from the first LS in 1952 till now there has been no occasion when any party with less than 55 members has been recognized as a political party and there have been long periods when there has been no LOP. Laws enacted by Parliament in this regard make the position clearer. The Salaries and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977 provides for the leader of the party in opposition having the greatest numerical strength and recognized as such by the Speaker/Chairman being recognized as the LOP. Those advocating grant of LOP status in LS with salaries, allowances etc of a cabinet minister to the Congress with only 44 members selectively quote the Act ignoring the requirement of the Speaker’s recognition. And, Speaker’s recognition cannot be arbitrary or even discretionary. It has always been and has to be subject to Direction 121(c) which categorically stipulates the 10% membership condition. It makes no sense to argue that the Direction is dated, belongs to (first LS speaker) Mavalankar’s times and is not relevant after the 1977 Act. If that were so, there would have been LOP in the 7th and 8th LS which came after the 1977 Act, with the Congress in power.

If that was not enough, the Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (Facilities) Act, 1998 clinches the issue decisively when it refers to a recognized party in LS as a party which has a strength of not less than 55 members. It also provides for political parties in LS having strength of 30-54 members being recognized only as parliamentary groups.

The law gives actual numbers, leaving no onus on the Speaker in the matter. The established practice is that the Speaker on his own does not make any declaration in the matter of recognizing parliamentary parties or groups. He/she decides only when a formal request is made by members concerned.

It is insensitive poppycock for some party lobbyists to suggest that the Modi government or Speaker should show large-heartedness and, at the expense of the public exchequer, extend to someone the salary, allowances and perks against the law. If this is done, it is bound to be questioned in a court of law and declared null and void.

So far as the important role of LOP in the appointment of NHRC, CVC, CIC, Lokpal etc is concerned, it is for the government to bring in necessary amendments.

The very fact that in the absence of a recognized LOP, the leader of the single largest group in opposition has been asked to perform the role shows the situation has been envisaged.

The author is former secretary general of Lok Sabha and president of the Indian National Bar Association

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