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.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.