The results of General Election 2019 were declared last week concluding the process for electing the 17th Lok Sabha. Immediately after the results, the previous Lok Sabha was dissolved. The next couple of days will witness several key events such as swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha. In the first session, the newly elected MPs will take their oaths, the Speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha will be elected, and the President will address a joint sitting of Parliament. In this blog, we explain the process and significance of the events that will follow in the days to come.
Key Events in the First Session of the 17th Lok Sabha
The Bharatiya Janta Party has emerged as the single largest party and the leader of the party will be sworn-in as the Prime Minister. As per Article 75(1) of the Constitution, the other ministers are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. The 91st Amendment to the Constitution limits the total size of the Council of Ministers to 15% of the total strength of the House (i.e., 81 Ministers). As per media reports, swearing-in of the Council of Ministers is scheduled for May 30, 2019.
How is the schedule for first session decided?
The 17th Lok Sabha will commence its first session in the first week of June. The exact date of commencement of the first session and the schedule of key events in the session, including the date of President’s address, is decided by the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs. This Committee will be set up after the swearing in of the Council of Ministers. The previous Lok Sabha had commenced on June 4, 2014 and its first session had six sitting days (June 4, 2014 to June 11, 2014).
Who presides over the first session?
Every proceeding of the House is presided by a Speaker. The Office of the Speaker becomes vacant immediately before the first meeting of a new Lok Sabha. Therefore, a temporary speaker, known as the pro-tem Speaker, is chosen from among the newly elected MPs. The pro-tem Speaker administers oath/affirmation to the newly elected members, and also presides over the sitting in which the new Speaker is elected. The office of the pro-tem Speaker ceases to exist when the new Speaker is elected.
How is the pro-tem speaker chosen?
Once the new government is elected, a list containing the names of the senior-most members of the House is prepared. The seniority is decided by total tenure as a member of either Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. The Prime Minister then identifies a Member from the list who acts as the Speaker pro-tem. Three other members are also identified before whom other members may take oath/affirmation.
How is the new Speaker chosen?
Any member may give notice of a motion that another Member be chosen as the Speaker of the House. The motions are then moved and voted upon. After the results are announced, the Speaker-elect is felicitated by leaders of all political parties, including the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. From then, the new Speaker takes over the proceedings of the House.
An understanding of the Constitution, the Rules of Procedure, and conventions of Parliament is considered a major asset for the Speaker. While this might indicate that a Speaker be one of the senior-most members of the House, this has not always been the norm. There have been occasions in the past where the Speaker of the House was a first-time MP. For instance, Mr. K.S. Hegde, the Speaker of the sixth Lok Sabha and Mr. Bal Ram Jakhar, the Speaker of the seventh Lok Sabha were both first time MPs
What is the role of the Speaker in the House?
The Speaker is central to the functioning of the legislature. The proceedings of the House are guided by the Rules of Procedure and the final authority for the interpretation and implementation of these rules rests with the Speaker. The Speaker is responsible for regulating the discussion in the House and maintaining order in the House. For instance, it is the Speaker’s discretion on whether to allow a member to raise a matter of public importance in the House. The Speaker can suspend a sitting member for obstructing the business of the House, or adjourn the House in case of major disorder.
The Speaker is also the chair of the Business Advisory Committee, which is responsible for deciding the business of the House and allocating time for the same. The Speaker also chairs the General Purposes Committee and the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha and appoints the chairpersons of other committees amongst the members. In the past, Speakers have also been instrumental in strengthening the Committee system. Mr. Shivraj Patil, the Speaker of the 10th Lok Sabha, played a key role in the initiation of 17 Departmental Standing Committees, therefore strengthening Parliament’s control over the functioning of different ministries of the government.
Since the Speaker represents the entire House, the office of the Speaker is vested with impartiality and independence. The Constitution and the Rules of Procedure have prescribed guidelines for the Speaker’s office to ensure such impartiality and independence. Dr. N. Sanjiva Reddy, the Speaker of the fourth Lok Sabha, formally resigned from his political party as he was of the opinion that the Speaker belongs to the whole House and should therefore remain impartial. As per Article 100 of the Constitution, the Speaker does not exercise vote on any matter being voted upon, in the first instance. However, in case there’s a tie during the voting, the Speaker exercises her vote.
What does the President’s Address entail?
The election of the Speaker is followed by the President’s Address. Article 87 of the Constitution requires the President to address both Houses at the beginning of the first session after each general election. The President also addresses both the Houses at the beginning of the first session of each year. The President’s address highlights the initiatives of the government from the previous year, and mentions the policy priorities for the upcoming year. After the address, the ruling party moves a Motion of Thanks to the President’s address in both Houses of Parliament. In the Motion of Thanks, MPs may move amendments to the motion, which are then put to vote.
The President of India, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind will address Parliament in this first session of the 17th Lok Sabha. During the 16th Lok Sabha, the first President’s address was held on June 9, 2014 and the last time he addressed Parliament was on January 31, 2019 (highlights of this address can be read here).
Sources: The Constitution of India; Rules and Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha; Handbook on the Working of Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; The website of Parliament of India, Lok Sabha; The website of Office of the Speaker, Lok Sabha.
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.