ANARCHY IN ASSEMBLY: THE SPEAKER SHOULD RISE ABOVE PARTY LINE

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Speaker Maheswar Mohanty has declared that he will not claim his participation allowances for the days of this session when the Assembly remains so stonewalled that no tangible business is transacted. But, it is he to whom annalists may hold responsible for the continuing impasse that has kept the House stonewalled for the last five days ever since its current session commenced.

Since commencement of the current session, Orissa Legislative Assembly has failed to proceed with normal business, as the Speaker is not disposing off a Notice from the Opposition on a Motion it wants the Assembly to adopt.

The farming community has raised vociferous protests against supply of water to industries from the Hirakud Dam Reservoir (hereafter called the Reservoir) and has heightened its demand for ban on any diversion of water from power generation and irrigation to industrial use.

In fact, the Hirakud Dam was created for this specific purpose of power generation and irrigation only and the people of the area have tolerated the turmoil of displacement only for this purpose.

Diversion of water to industry has made a farce of peoples’ sacrifice and our people are no more willing to tolerate this onslaught. The recent mass agitation has made it clear that unless the government amends itself, the situation will no doubt go beyond controls.

The Opposition has taken a timely and appropriate step to stop precipitations. It has preferred a Motion that wants the Assembly to bind the government through a unanimous decision to reserve the Reservoir for only power generation and irrigation. Therefore it has given the notice under Rule 113-B of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Orissa Legislative Assembly, herein after called The Rules, which stipulates at Cl.(3),

“The Speaker shall, at the appointed hour on the allotted days or on the last of the allotted day, as the case may be, forthwith put every question necessary to determine the decision of the House on the original question”.

Section 113-A of The Rules has two parts. In Part (1) it has spelt out the conditions of admissibility of motion. These conditions are:

(i) it shall raise substantially one definite issue;
(ii) it shall not contain arguments, inference, ironical expressions, imputations or defamatory statement;
(iii) it shall not refer to the conduct or character of persons except in their public capacity;
(iv) it shall be restricted to a matter of recent occurrence;
(v) it shall not raise a question of privilege;
(vi) it shall not revive discussion of a matter which has been discussed in the same session;
(vii) it shall not anticipate discussion of a matter which is likely to be discussed in the same session; and
(vii) it shall not relate to any matter which is under adjudication by a Court of law having jurisdiction in any part of India.

The Opposition Motion does not violate of any of these conditions. Hence its notice is doubtlessly admissible.

If there is any defect in the motion, the Speaker is empowered to disallow admission thereof in whole or in part under the 2nd part of this Rule which says,

“The Speaker shall decide whether a motion or part thereof is or is not admissible under these Rules and may disallow any motion or a part thereof when in his opinion it is an abuse of the right of moving a motion or is calculated to obstruct or prejudicially affect the procedure of the Assembly or is in contravention of these Rules”.

But the Speaker is failing. He is neither admitting the Opposition Motion nor is he disallowing it. He is the person to decide, but he is not taking any decision. Therefore, the Assembly has remained stonewalled.

Seemingly he is in a predicament.

He is put to this predicament by the Treasury Benches on whose choice he is in the chair and whereto he shall go if under any circumstances he relinquishes. This predicament is caused by another Motion noticed apparently in retaliation to the one from the Opposition. This parallel Motion from the government side wants its disposal under Section 113-C of The Rules, where the matter, if taken in to consideration “shall not be put to the vote of the House”. Unless it is voted, it is not binding. Crux of the issue lies here

The Chief minister has declared through television interviews repeatedly that there shall be no supply of water to industry from the Reservoir; but Minister Raghunath Mohanty has told the Press that supply of water to industry from the Reservoir shall not affect irrigation.

Mohanty’s statement has helped people know the hidden agenda of the government behind the formulation of its parallel Motion. It makes it clear that water supply to industries from the Hirakud shall continue notwithstanding in what term the House discusses the official Motion.

It is a known fact that Navin babu’s loyalty to industry has put the people of Orissa in pernicious jeopardy. He or his government can go to any extent to hoodwink the innocent people and therefore, the Opposition says, binding the government with a voted Motion to preserve the water of the Reservoir for only power generation and irrigation is the bare minimum necessity of the moment.

If Navin is not trying to hoodwink the farmers why he is afraid of the Motion preferred by the Opposition? It is really intriguing; specifically as the government claims that the Motion it prefers is also on the same issue with the same intension.

In fact, if the government does not want to reject the demands for use of the reservoir water only for power generation and irrigation, then it has no reason to oppose the Opposition Motion. It has no reason to be afraid of voting; because being in majority, the government side can make the Motion voted and then the credit shall certainly go to the Treasury Benches for making it binding.

The government can also reject the Opposition Motion by majority vote as being in the Treasury Benches, it has majority members in the House. So why it is reluctant to take a specific step?

Who, then, is responsible for the impasse in the Assembly? The Government or te Opposition?

On the other hand, why the Speaker is reluctant to pass a ruling in order to end the impasse?

He has two Motions on his table. Difference in language notwithstanding, both of the Motions is equal in intent. So the Speaker should pick up one and reject the other.

In this regards, he has two options to exercise. One, he should admit the notice that is received earlier than the other.

As the Opposition notice is received earlier, he should admit this and reject the official one.

The second option available to him is exercise of his wisdom in favor of result-oriented discussion.

A Motion sans voting cannot be result-oriented. If the debates on a Motion do not arrive at a determination, it would go barren and shall have no end-result. And there is no gain in engaging the House in a debate that would go barren in a very sensitive instance that craves for a binding direction from the Assembly.

In case, the Speaker ignores the Opposition Motion noticed earlier and admits the Official Resolution noticed later, as the guardian of the Rampart of Democracy, he is expected to declare as to what in his view is the majority opinion of the House so that water supply from the Reservoir would be guided accordingly.

This would tantamount to a decision of the House without voting with lot of openings for future litigations.

This would not be conducive to what in a democracy people normally expect. Therefore, it is best to avoid declaring a decision without a voting.

The issue is really serious. The Speaker ought to pay his serious attention to this. By declaring not to claim allowances till the impasse is over he is not helping democracy. He is to act. And, act very soon. The Rules have given him the required authority to allow or disallow placing of a Motion for consideration of the House. And The Rules have clearly categorized the conditions on which a Motion can be allowed or disallowed by the Speaker.

But to act according to The Rules, he is perhaps required to rise above party lines.

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