ANTI-DEFECTION LAW

 

 

ANTI-DEFECTION LAW

 “First step towards cleaning-up public life”- Rajiv Gandhi (the then Prime Minister)

To prepare for INDIAN POLITY for any competitive exam, aspirants have to know about Anti-Defection law. It gives an idea of all the important topics for the IAS Exam and the polity syllabus (GS-II.). This is an essential portion of the polity.  As IAS aspirants, you should be thorough with the Anti-Defection law. In this article, you can read all about the Anti-Defection law for the Polity and Governance segments of the UPSC syllabus.

Anti-Defection law is intended to strengthen the fabric of Indian parliamentary democracy by curbing unprincipled and unethical political defections.

 

BACKGROUND

 

  • The main intent of the law was to combat “the evil of political defections”.
  • 52nd amendment 1985 àAdded Tenth Schedule which laid down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection.
  • Amended in 91st amendment act 2003à Omitted the exception provision i.e. disqualification on grounds of defection not applicable in case of split.
  • GROUNDS FOR DISQUALIFICATION
  • Member of Parliament or State Legislature belonging to a political party is deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily resigns or gives up the membership of his political party, or he disobeys the directives of the party leadership on a vote or abstains from voting without taking prior permission. However, he can seek the permission of party before 15 days.
  • An independent candidate joins the party after the election. (discriminatory viz a viz nominated member.
  • A nominated member joins a party six months after becoming an MP/MLA.

 

 

EXCEPTIONS TO THE ANTI-DEFECTION LAW
  • Any person elected as speaker or chairman could resign from his party, and rejoin the party if he demitted that post, as practiced in Britain.
  • A party could be merged into another if at least two-thirds of its party legislators voted for the merger.

 

EXCEPTIONS TO THE ANTI-DEFECTION LAW
  • Any question regarding disqualification arising out of defection is to be decided by the presiding officer of the House. (i.e. Speaker in Lok Sabha and Chairperson in Rajya Sabha.)
  • Originally, the act provided that the decision of the presiding officer is final and cannot be questioned in any court.
  • Kihoto Hollohan judgement (1993) à Supreme Court declared this provision as unconstitutional on the ground that it seeks to take away the jurisdiction of the SUPREME COURT and the HIGH COURT.
  • Further, SC held that the presiding officer, while deciding a question under the Tenth Schedule, function as a TRIBUNALS. Hence, his decision like that of any other tribunal, is subject to judicial review on the grounds of mala fides, perversity, etc.

 

 RULE-MAKING POWERS
  • The presiding officer of a House is empowered to make rules to give effect to the provisions of the Tenth Schedule.
  • According to the rules made so, the presiding officer can take up a defection case only when he receives a complaint from a member of the House.
  • Before taking the final decision, he must give the member (against whom the complaint has been made) a chance to submit his explanation.
  • He may also refer the matter to the committee of privileges for inquiry.
  • Conclusively, defection has no immediate and automatic effect.

 

PROVISIONS OF 91ST AMENDMENT ACT 2003
  • Total number of ministers, including the PRIME MINISTER, in the Central Council of Ministers shall not exceed 15 per cent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha.
  • The total number of ministers, including the Chief Minister, in the Council of Ministers in a state shall not exceed 15 per cent of the total strength of the Legislative Assembly of that state. However, the number of ministers, including the Chief Minister, in a state shall not be less than 12.
  • A member of either House of PARLIAMENT belonging to any political party who is disqualified on the ground of defection shall also be disqualified to be appointed as a minister.
  • A member of either House of a state legislature belonging to any political party who is disqualified on the ground of defection shall also be disqualified to be appointed as a minister.
  • A member of either House of Parliament or either House of a State Legislature belonging to any political party who is disqualified on the ground of defection shall also be disqualified to hold any remunerative political post.
  • The provision of the Tenth Schedule pertaining to exemption from disqualification in case of split by one-third members of legislature party has been deleted.

 

IMPORTANCE OF ANTI-DEFECTION LAW
  • Provides stability to the government by preventing shifts of party allegiance.
  • Ensures that candidates elected with party support and on the basis of party manifestoes remain loyal to the party policies.
  • It facilitates democratic and ideological realignment of parties in the legislature.
  • Help in reducing non-developmental expenditure incurred on irregular elections.
  • For the first time, it gave clear-cut constitutional recognition to the existence of political parties.
  • It promotes party discipline.
  • It prevents breach of trust of people due to defection.

 

KARNATAKA ISSUE – RESIGNATION VS DISQUALIFICATION BACKGROUND
  • Supreme Court recently upheld former Karnataka assembly speaker’s decision to disqualify 17 rebel lawmakers but allowed the rebels to contest the by-polls.
  • In 2019, a motion of no confidence to be considered in Karnataka Assembly against the ruling party.
  • As soon as the trust vote was not achieved during the floor testby the ruling party, the Speaker disqualified those rebellious members.
  • Question 1the disqualification of members under the Anti-defection law versus the role of Speaker to accept their resignation.
  • The Speaker also barred those MLAs from contesting elections till the time incumbent Assembly’s term gets over, i.e. by 2023.
  • Question 2whether disqualification under Tenth Schedule can lead to a bar upon legislators to contest by-elections during the tenure of the incumbent Legislative Assembly.

 

SUPREME COURT’S OBSERVATIONS
  • Anti-defection law versus Re-contesting elections – The SC upheld the disqualificationof the dissident legislators.
  • It also held that their ouster does not put any bar upon them from contesting by-polls.
According to the SC, “neither under the Constitution nor under the statutory scheme (RPA 1951 or Anti-Defection Law) it is mentioned that disqualification under the Tenth Schedule would lead to a bar for contesting re-elections”.
  • The SC also remarked that à Even the 91st Amendment Act, 2003which did not allow a disqualified member to be appointed as a minister, did not give Speaker the power to put a ban upon them to contest elections till the end of the term.

 

RESIGNATION VS DISQUALIFICATION
  • A member may choose to resign for a variety of reasons which represents an individual’s choice or will.
  • Under  190(3) of the Constitution,the Speaker has to ascertain the voluntary and genuine nature of a resignation before accepting it.
  • It is a limited inquiry process only to check if the letter is authentic and if the intent to quit is based on free will. Once it is clear, the Speaker has no option but to accept the resignation of respective member.
  • An elected member if chooses to resign cannot be compelled to continue in the office.
  • However, a disqualification leads to the expulsion of the member from the office, irrespective of their will.
Supreme court observed à “on the one hand, resignation does not take away the effect of a prior act that amounts to disqualification. On the other, Speakers are not given a free power to sit on resignation letters indefinitely.”
  • The Court also observed that a pending disqualification action does not become non-functional by mere submission of the resignation letter. This would defeat the purpose of the Tenth Schedule if it was held that disqualification proceedings would become unfruitful upon tendering resignation.

 

ISSUES WITH ANTI-DEFECTION LAW
  • Abridging right of free speech of the legislators – It seems to be reducing MPs from thinking lawmakers to mere numbers required for passing a Bill.
  • Absence of differentiation – Between dissent and defection. It curbs the legislator’s right to dissent and freedom of conscience.
  • Irrational differentiation and distinction between individual defection and group defection.
  • Provisions are not applicable to the activities outside the legislature.
  • Illogical discrimination between an independent member and a nominated member.
  • Role of speaker – The law states that the decision is final and not subject to judicial review. However, Supreme Court struck down this part and held that the final decision is subject to appeal in the High Courts and Supreme Court.
  • Lack of clarity after being expelled from one party – Whether a member can be said to voluntarily give up his membership of a party if he joins another party after being expelled by his old political party is unclear.
  • Applicability to only pre-poll alliance – The rationale that a representative is elected on the basis of the party’s programme can be extended to pre-poll alliances. This raises the issue of instability when alliance is formed post-elections.
  • Dictatorial decisions – A member may be unable to express his actual belief or the interests of his constituents due to party whip even if the bill does not amount to no-confidence.
  • Reduces accountability – By preventing parliamentarians from changing parties, it reduces the accountability of the government to the Parliament and the people.
  • Decision-making authority in the presiding officer is criticised on two grounds-
    • He may not exercise this authority in an impartial and objective manner due to political exigencies and affiliations.
    • He may lack the legal knowledge, acumen and experience to adjudicate upon the cases.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS OF VARIOUS BODIES ON ANTI-DEFECTION LAW-
  • Barring disqualified members from contesting by-polls by making relevant amendments to RPA 1951 and Anti Defection Law. As this was major loophole observed by SC in recent Karnataka disqualification vs resignation case.
  • Providing time bound adjudication – The law does not specify a time- period for the Presiding Officer to decide on a disqualification plea. However, Supreme Court asked the State Assembly Speaker to decide the disqualification petition in four weeks.
  • Expedite inputs provided by SC – SC asked Parliament to amend the Constitution to strip Legislative Assembly Speakers of their exclusive power to decide on the matter of disqualification under the anti-defection law.

 

DINESH GOSWAMI COMMITTEE ON ELECTORAL REFORMS
  • Disqualification should be limited to cases where –
    • A member voluntarily gives up the membership of his political party.
    • A member abstains from voting, or votes contrary to the party whip in a motion of vote of confidence or motion of no-confidence.
  • The issue of disqualification should be decided by the President/ Governor on the advice of the Election Commission.

 

LAW COMMISSION (170TH REPORT, 1999)
  • Provisions which exempt splits and mergers from disqualification to be deleted.
  • Pre-poll electoral fronts should be treated as political parties under anti-defection law.
  • Political parties should limit issuance of whips to instances only when the government is in danger.

 

ELECTION COMMISSION
  • Decisions under the Tenth Schedule should be made by the President/ Governor on the binding advice of the Election Commission

 

CONSTITUTION REVIEW COMMISSION (2002)
  • Defectors should be barred from holding public office or any remunerative political post for the duration of the remaining term.
  • The vote cast by a defector to topple a government should be treated as invalid.

 

PHRASES FOR MAINS
  • “Aayaram Gayaraam”
  • “Politics without principle” – Integral component of Gandhi’s seven Sins
  • Got significance in coalition politics of India (post 1967)

 

EXAMPLES OF “POLITICS WITHOUT PRINCIPLE”
  1. The emergence of Communalism for vote bank
  2. Religious appeal and citations for voting
  3. Lack of internal party democracy
  4. No seats for women in the party
  5. Political parties utilizing public fund are not under RTI
  6. Poor parliamentary functioning and frequent disruptions (Parliament sittings have reduced from 120 days/year to 65-70 days/year due to various reasons including disruptions leading to adjournment.)
  7. Criminalization of politics à 34% winners have declared criminal cases against themselves – ADR Report.
  8. Perceived biasness of speaker in adjudication of disqualification under Anti-defection law. E.g. Karnataka ruling of speaker.
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