Importance of Office of Speaker:
The Speaker is the head of the Lok Sabha, and its representative. He is the guardian of powers and privileges of the members, the House as a whole and its committees. He is the principal spokesman of the House, and his decision in all Parliamentary matters is final. He is thus much more than merely the presiding officer of the Lok Sabha. In these capacities, he is vested with vast, varied and vital responsibilities and enjoys great honour, high dignity and supreme authority within the House.
The Speaker of the Lok Sabha derives his powers and duties from three sources, that is, the Constitution of India, the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of Lok Sabha, and Parliamentary Conventions (residuary powers that are unwritten or unspecified in the Rules). Altogether, he has the following powers and duties:
1.He maintains order and decorum in the House for conducting its business and regulating its proceedings. This is his primary responsibility and he has final power in this regard.
2.He is the final interpreter of the provisions of (a) the Constitution of India, (b) the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of Lok Sabha, and (c) the parliamentary precedents, within the House.
3.He adjourns the House or suspends the meeting in absence of a quorum. The quorum to constitute a meeting of the House is one-tenth of the total strength of the House.
4.He does not vote in the first instance. But he can exercise a casting vote in the case of a tie. In other words, only when the House is divided equally on any question, the Speaker is entitled to vote. Such vote is called casting vote, and its purpose is to resolve a deadlock.
5.He presides over a joint setting of the two Houses of Parliament. Such a sitting is summoned by the President to settle a deadlock between the two Houses on a bill.
6.He can allow a ‘secret’ sitting of the House at the request of the Leader of the House. When the House sits in secret, no stranger can be present in the chamber, lobby or galleries except with the permission of the Speaker.
7.He decides whether a bill is a money bill or not and his decision on this question is final. When a money bill is transmitted to the Rajya Sabha for recommendation and presented to the President for assent, the Speaker endorses on the bill his certificate that it is a money bill.
8.He decides the questions of disqualification of a member of the Lok Sabha, arising on the ground of defection under the provisions of the Tenth Schedule. In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that the decision of the Speaker in this regard is subject to judicial review10.
9.He acts as the ex-officio chairman of the Indian Parliamentary Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. He also acts as the ex-officio chairman of the conference of presiding officers of legislative bodies in the country.
10.He appoints the chairman of all the parliamentary committees of the Lok Sabha and supervises their functioning. He himself is the chairman of the Business Advisory Committee, the Rules Committee and the General Purpose Committee.
Reason for Criticism:
Claims of Prejudice and the Problem of Partisanship: Allegations of bias persist because of structural issues regarding the manner in which the Speaker is appointed and his tenure in office. In the recent past, a tradition has developed that the Speaker is chosen from the majority party, and the Deputy Speaker from the opposition side.
- No convention of Speakers foregoing their party membership: This is because the Speaker’s re-election to the House is not secure.
- Indian Speakers have held ministerial positions immediately before and after their term. Thus, it is not surprising that the Speakers in India have been blamed for partisanship even if there is no evidence to support such claims.
- Challenge of Coalitions: With the increase in the multitude of parties, time available to each party to represent its interests during discussions is reduced. Also, there has been a decrease in the number of annual sittings of Parliament.
- Rise in the number of political parties and varied political interest has made it harder for the Speaker to find consensus between members on use of disciplinary powers
- Unparliamentary conduct: Members seek to use unparliamentary means such as disruptions etc. for attaining the indulgence of the Speaker.
Role in Anti-Defection Law: The determination of disqualification of a member offers ample scope for Speakers to exercise discretion which is often used by ruling party to disqualify dissent.16 MLAs in the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly were disqualified by the Speaker, Nabam Rebia, in 2016 despite not officially leaving the party or defying its directives.
- Determination of money bill: It has been criticised for certifying bills such as Aadhaar Bill etc. as Money Bill, though it may not have met the strict criteria laid out in the Constitution.