On Monday, December 4, the Chairman of Rajya Sabha disqualified two Members of Parliament (MPs) from the House under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution (better known as the anti-defection law) for having defected from their party.[1] These members were elected on a Janata Dal (United) ticket.  The Madras High Court is also hearing petitions filed by 18 MLAs who were disqualified by the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly in September 2017 under the anti-defection law.  Allegations of legislators defecting in violation of the law have been made in several other states including Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Nagaland, Telangana and Uttarakhand in recent years.[2]  In this context, we explain the anti-defection law.

What is the anti-defection law?

Aaya Ram Gaya Ram was a phrase that became popular in Indian politics after a Haryana MLA Gaya Lal changed his party thrice within the same day in 1967.  The anti-defection law sought to prevent such political defections which may be due to reward of office or other similar considerations.[3]

The Tenth Schedule was inserted in the Constitution in 1985. It lays down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection by the Presiding Officer of a legislature based on a petition by any other member of the House. A legislator is deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily gives up the membership of his party or disobeys the directives of the party leadership on a vote. This implies that a legislator defying (abstaining or voting against) the party whip on any issue can lose his membership of the House.  The law applies to both Parliament and state assemblies.

Are there any exceptions under the law?

Yes, legislators may change their party without the risk of disqualification in certain circumstances. The law allows a party to merge with or into another party provided that at least two-thirds of its legislators are in favour of the merger. In such a scenario, neither the members who decide to merge, nor the ones who stay with the original party will face disqualification.

Various expert committees have recommended that rather than the Presiding Officer, the decision to disqualify a member should be made by the President (in case of MPs) or the Governor (in case of MLAs) on the advice of the Election Commission.[4] This would be similar to the process followed for disqualification in case the person holds an office of profit (i.e. the person holds an office under the central or state government which carries a remuneration, and has not been excluded in a list made by the legislature).

How has the law been interpreted by the Courts while deciding on related matters?

The Supreme Court has interpreted different provisions of the law.  We discuss some of these below.

The phrase ‘Voluntarily gives up his membership’ has a wider connotation than resignation

The law provides for a member to be disqualified if he ‘voluntarily gives up his membership’. However, the Supreme Court has interpreted that in the absence of a formal resignation by the member, the giving up of membership can be inferred by his conduct.[5] In other judgments, members who have publicly expressed opposition to their party or support for another party were deemed to have resigned.[6]

In the case of the two JD(U) MPs who were disqualified from Rajya Sabha on Monday, they were deemed to have ‘voluntarily given up their membership’ by engaging in anti-party activities which included criticizing the party on public forums on multiple occasions, and attending rallies organised by opposition parties in Bihar.[7]

Decision of the Presiding Officer is subject to judicial review 

The law initially stated that the decision of the Presiding Officer is not subject to judicial review. This condition was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1992, thereby allowing appeals against the Presiding Officer’s decision in the High Court and Supreme Court.[8] However, it held that there may not be any judicial intervention until the Presiding Officer gives his order.

In 2015, the Hyderabad High Court, refused to intervene after hearing a petition which alleged that there had been delay by the Telangana Assembly Speaker in acting against a member under the anti-defection law.[9]

Is there a time limit within which the Presiding Officer has to decide?

The law does not specify a time-period for the Presiding Officer to decide on a disqualification plea. Given that courts can intervene only after the Presiding Officer has decided on the matter, the petitioner seeking disqualification has no option but to wait for this decision to be made.

There have been several cases where the Courts have expressed concern about the unnecessary delay in deciding such petitions.[10] In some cases this delay in decision making has resulted in members, who have defected from their parties, continuing to be members of the House. There have also been instances where opposition members have been appointed ministers in the government while still retaining the membership of their original parties in the legislature.[11]

In recent years, opposition MLAs in some states, such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, have broken away in small groups gradually to join the ruling party. In some of these cases, more than 2/3rd of the opposition has defected to the ruling party.

In these scenarios, the MLAs were subject to disqualification while defecting to the ruling party in smaller groups.  However, it is not clear if they will still face disqualification if the Presiding Officer makes a decision after more than 2/3rd of the opposition has defected to the ruling party. The Telangana Speaker in March 2016 allowed the merger of the TDP Legislature Party in Telangana with the ruling TRS, citing that in total, 80% of the TDP MLAs (12 out of 15) had joined the TRS at the time of taking the decision.[12]

In Andhra Pradesh, legislators of the main opposition party recently boycotted the entire 12-day assembly session.  This boycott was in protest against the delay of over 18 months in action being taken against legislators of their party who have allegedly defected to the ruling party.[13] The Vice President, in his recent order disqualifying two JD(U) members stated that all such petitions should be decided by the Presiding Officers within a period of around three months.

Does the anti-defection law affect the ability of legislators to make decisions?

The anti-defection law seeks to provide a stable government by ensuring the legislators do not switch sides. However, this law also restricts a legislator from voting in line with his conscience, judgement and interests of his electorate. Such a situation impedes the oversight function of the legislature over the government, by ensuring that members vote based on the decisions taken by the party leadership, and not what their constituents would like them to vote for.

Political parties issue a direction to MPs on how to vote on most issues, irrespective of the nature of the issue. Several experts have suggested that the law should be valid only for those votes that determine the stability of the government (passage of the annual budget or no-confidence motions).[14]


[1] Parliamentary Bulletin-II, December 4, 2017, and

[2] MLA Defection Politics Not New, Firstpost, March 13, 2017, http://www.firstpost.com/politics/bjp-forms-govt-in-goa-manipur-mla-defection-politics-not-new-telangana-ap-perfected-it-3331872.html.

[3] The Constitution (52nd Amendment) Act, 1985, http://indiacode.nic.in/coiweb/amend/amend52.htm.

[4] Report of the Committee on Electoral Reforms, 1990, http://lawmin.nic.in/ld/erreports/Dinesh%20Goswami%20Report%20on%20Electoral%20Reforms.pdfand the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution (NCRWC), 2002, http://lawmin.nic.in/ncrwc/ncrwcreport.htm.

[5] Ravi Naik vs Union of India, 1994, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/554446/.

[6] G.Viswanathan Vs. The Hon’ble Speaker, Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, Madras& Another, 1996, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1093980/  and Rajendra Singh Rana vs. Swami Prasad Maurya and Others, 2007, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1620629/ and Parliamentary Bulletin-II, December 4, 2017,

[7] Parliamentary Bulletin-II, December 4, 2017,

[8] Kihoto Hollohon vs. Zachilhu and Others, 1992, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1686885/.

[9] Sabotage of Anti-Defection Law in Telangana, 2015, https://www.epw.in/journal/2015/50/commentary/sabotage-anti-defection-law-telangana.html.

[10] Speaker, Haryana Vidhan Sabha Vs Kuldeep Bishnoi & Ors., 2012, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/45034065/  and Mayawati Vs Markandeya Chand & Ors., 1998, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1801522/.

[11] Anti-Defecton Law Ignored, November 30, 2017, http://www.news18.com/news/politics/anti-defection-law-ignored-as-mlas-defect-to-tdp-trs-in-andhra-pradesh-and-telangana-1591319.htmland It’s official Minister Talasani is still a TDP Member, March 27, 2015, http://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/Telangana/2015-03-27/Its-Official-Minister-Talasani-is-still-a-TDP-member/140135.

[12] Telangana Legislative Assembly Bulletin, March 10, 2016, http://www.telanganalegislature.org.in/documents/10656/19317/Assembly+Buletin.PDF/a0d4bb52-9acf-494f-80e7-3a16e3480460;  12 TDP MLAs merged with TRS, March 11, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/telangana/12-tdp-mlas-merged-with-trs/article8341018.ece.

[13] The line TD leaders dare not cross, December 4, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/the-line-td-leaders-dare-not-cross/article21257521.ece

[14] Report of the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution, 2002, http://lawmin.nic.in/ncrwc/ncrwcreport.htm, Report of the Committee on electoral reforms, 1990, http://lawmin.nic.in/ld/erreports/Dinesh%20Goswami%20Report%20on%20Electoral%20Reforms.pdf and Law Commission (170th report), 1999, http://www.lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/lc170.htm.

On June 1, 2020, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved a revision in the definition of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).[1]  In this blog, we discuss the change in the definition as approved by the Cabinet, and examine some of the common criteria used for classification of MSMEs.

Currently, MSMEs are defined under the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006.[2]  The Act classifies them as micro, small and medium enterprises based on: (i) investment in plant and machinery for enterprises engaged in manufacturing or production of goods, and (ii) investment in equipment for enterprises providing services.  As per the Cabinet approval, the investment limits will be revised upwards and annual turnover of the enterprise will be used as additional criteria for the classification of MSMEs (Table 1). 

Earlier attempts to amend the definition of MSMEs

The central government has sought to revise the definition of MSMEs in the Act on two earlier occasions.  The government introduced the MSME Development (Amendment) Bill, 2015 which proposed to increase the investment limits for manufacturing and services MSMEs.[3]  This Bill was withdrawn in July 2018 and another Bill was introduced.  The MSME Development (Amendment) Bill, 2018 proposed to: (i) use annual turnover as criteria instead of investment for classification of MSMEs, (ii) remove the distinction between manufacturing and services, and (iii) provide the central government with the power to revise the turnover limits, through a notification.[4]  The 2018 Bill lapsed with the dissolution of 16th Lok Sabha. 

Global trends in criteria for the classification of MSMEs

While India will now be using investment and annual turnover as the criteria to classify MSMEs, globally, the number of employees is the most widely used criteria for classifying MSMEs.  The Reserve Bank of India's Expert Committee on MSMEs (2019) cited a study by the International Finance Corporation in 2014 which analysed 267 definitions used by different institutions in 155 countries.[5],[6]  According to the study, countries used a combination of criteria to classify MSMEs.   92% of the definitions used the number of employees as one of the criteria.  Other frequently used criteria were: (i) turnover (49%), and (ii) value of assets (36%).  11% of the analysed definitions used alternative criteria such as: (i) loan size, (ii) years of experience, and (iii) initial investment. 

Evaluation of common criteria used to define MSMEs

Investment: The 2006 Act uses investment in plant, machinery, and equipment to classify MSMEs.  Some of the issues with the investment criteria include:

  • The investment criteria require physical verification and have associated cost overheads.[7]
  • The investment limits may need to be revised from time-to-time due to the impact of inflation.  The Standing Committee on Industry (2018) had observed that limits set under the Act in 2006 have become irrelevant due to the impact of inflation.7
  • Due to their informal and small scale of operations, firms often do not maintain proper books of accounts and hence find it difficult to get classified as MSMEs as per the current definition.5

  • The investment-based classification incentivises promoters to keep the investment size restricted to retain the benefits associated with the micro or small category.7

Turnover: The 2018 Bill sought to replace the investment criteria with annual turnover as the sole criteria for the classification of MSMEs.  The Standing Committee agreed with the proposal under the Bill to use annual turnover as the criteria instead of investment.7  It observed that this could overcome some of the shortcomings of classification based on investment.  While turnover based criteria will also require verification, the Committee noted that the GST Network (GSTN) data can act as a reliable source of information for this purpose.  However, it also observed that:7

  • With turnover as a criterion for classification, corporates may misuse the incentives meant for MSMEs.  For instance, there is a possibility that a multi-national company may produce a large quantity of products worth a high turnover and then market it through various subsidiaries registered as Micro or Small enterprise under GSTN. 

  • The turnover of some enterprises may fluctuate depending on their business, which may result in the change of classification of the enterprise during a year. 

  • The Committee noted that there is a wide gap in turnover limits.  For instance, an enterprise with a turnover of Rs 6 crore and an enterprise with a turnover of Rs 75 crore (as proposed in 2018 Bill) would both be classified as a small enterprise, which seems incongruous. 

The Expert Committee (RBI) also recommended using annual turnover as the criteria for classification instead of investment.5  It observed that turnover based definition would be transparent, progressive, and easier to implement through the GSTN.  It also recommended that the power to change the definition of MSMEs should be delegated to the executive as it will help in responding to changing economic scenarios.

Number of employees: The Standing Committee had highlighted that in a labour-intensive country like India, appropriate focus is required on employment generation and MSME sector is the most suitable platform for this.7  It had recommended that the central government should assess the number of persons employed in the MSME sector and also consider employment as a criterion while classifying MSMEs.  However, the Expert Committee (RBI) stated that while the employment-based definition is an additional feature preferred in some countries, the definition would pose challenges in implementation.5  According to the Ministry of MSME, employment as a criterion has problems due to: (i) factors such as seasonality and informal nature of engagement, (ii) similar to investment criteria, this would also require physical verification and has associated cost overheads.7  

Number of MSMEs

According to the National Sample Survey (2015-16), there were around 6.34 crore MSMEs in the country.  The micro sector with 6.3 crore enterprises accounted for more than 99% of the total estimated number of MSMEs.  The small and medium sectors accounted for only 0.52% and 0.01% of the estimated number of enterprises, respectively.  Another dataset to understand the distribution of MSMEs is Udyog Aadhaar, a unique identity provided by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to MSME enterprises.[8]  Udyog Aadhaar registration is based on self-declaration by enterprises.  Between September 2015 and June 2020, 98.6 lakh enterprises have registered with UIDAI.  According to this dataset, micro, small, and medium enterprises comprise 87.7%, 11.8% and 0.5% of the MSME sector respectively.

Employment in the MSME sector

The MSME sector employed nearly 11.1 crore people in 2015-16.  The sector was the second largest employer after the agriculture sector.  The highest number of employed persons were engaged in trade activity (35%), followed by persons engaged in manufacturing (32%).

Implications of change in the definition of MSMEs

The change in the definition of MSMEs may result in many enterprises which are currently classified as Small enterprises be reclassified as Micro, and those classified as Medium enterprises be reclassified as Small.  Further, there may be many enterprises which are not currently classified as MSMEs, which may fall under the MSME classification as per the new definition.   Such enterprises will also now benefit from the schemes related to MSMEs.  The Ministry of MSME runs various schemes to provide for: (i) flow of credit to MSMEs, (ii) support for technology upgrade and modernisation, (iii) entrepreneurship and skill development, and (iv) cluster-wise measures to promote capacity-building and empowerment of MSME units.  For instance, under the Credit Guarantee Fund Scheme for Micro and Small Enterprises, a credit guarantee cover of up to 75% of the credit is provided to micro and small enterprises.[9]  Thus, the re-classification may require a significant increase in budgetary allocation for the MSME sector. 

Other announcements related to MSMEs in the aftermath of COVID-19 

MSME sector accounted for nearly 33.4% of the total manufacturing output in 2017-18.[10]  During the same year, its share in the country’s total exports was around 49%.  Between 2015 and 2017, the contribution of the sector in GDP has been around 30%.  Due to the national lockdown induced by COVID-19, businesses including MSMEs have been badly hit.  To provide immediate relief to the MSME sector, the government announced several measures in May 2020.[11]  These include: (i) collateral-free loans for MSMEs with up to Rs 25 crore outstanding and up to Rs 100 crore turnover, (ii) Rs 20,000 crore as subordinate debt for stressed MSMEs, and (iii) Rs 50,000 crore of capital infusion into MSMEs.  These measures have also been approved by the Union Cabinet.[12]    

For more details on the announcements made under the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, see here

[1] “Cabinet approves Upward revision of MSME definition and modalities/ road map for implementing remaining two Packages for MSMEs (a)Rs 20000 crore package for Distressed MSMEs and (b) Rs 50,000 crore equity infusion through Fund of Funds”, Press Information Bureau, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, June 1, 2020.

[2] The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006, https://samadhaan.msme.gov.in/WriteReadData/DocumentFile/MSMED2006act.pdf.

[3] The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development (Amendment) Bill, 2015, https://www.prsindia.org/sites/default/files/bill_files/MSME_bill%2C_2015_0.pdf.

[4] The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development (Amendment) Bill, 2018, https://www.prsindia.org/sites/default/files/bill_files/The%20Micro%2C%20Small%20and%20Medium%20Enterprises%20Development%20%28Amendment%29%20Bill%2C%202018%20Bill%20Text.pdf.

[5] Report of the Expert Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, The Reserve Bank of India, July 2019, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PublicationReport/Pdfs/MSMES24062019465CF8CB30594AC29A7A010E8A2A034C.PDF.

[6] MSME Country Indicators 2014, International Finance Corporation, December 2014, https://www.smefinanceforum.org/sites/default/files/analysis%20note.pdf.

[7] 294th Report on Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Development (Amendment) Bill 2018, Standing Committee on Industry, Rajya Sabha, December 2018, https://rajyasabha.nic.in/rsnew/Committee_site/Committee_File/ReportFile/17/111/294_2019_3_15.pdf.

[8] Enterprises with Udyog Aadhaar Number, National Portal for Registration of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, https://udyogaadhaar.gov.in/UA/Reports/StateBasedReport_R3.aspx.

[9] Credit Guarantee Fund Scheme for Micro and Small Enterprises, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, http://www.dcmsme.gov.in/schemes/sccrguarn.htm.

[10] Annual Report 2018-19, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, https://msme.gov.in/sites/default/files/Annualrprt.pdf.

[11] "Finance Minister announce measures for relief and credit support related to businesses, especially MSMEs to support Indian Economy’s fight against COVID-19", Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, May 13, 2020.

[12] "Cabinet approves additional funding of up to Rupees three lakh crore through introduction of Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS)", Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, May 20, 2020.