Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Orissa Legislative Assembly has made a world record by deducting money from the salaries of three Congress MLAs towards cash penalty under orders of the Speaker. These MLAs had allegedly damaged Assembly property during an acrimonious debate.

The Opposition has been protesting against the decision alleging that the Speaker was not fair in his judgment. His decision is influenced more by his party link than by parliamentary niceties, they say.

Members of Congress Legislative Party have gone up to apprising the State Governor of the partisan conduct of the Speaker who belongs, as a representative, to the ruling B.J.D. This is, in our view, a serious matter that exposes the dark side of our democracy.

As we watch deterioration has crippled our political system. The M.L.A.s who should be ideal law-abiders have been excelling in contravention of laws. They belong not to any particular party, but they are a class by themselves comprising all the parties. Politics has fallen in wrong hands.

The present Speaker during his previous avatar as MLA from Puri had created a record in contempt towards the House by sleeping on the Reporters’ desk during debate hours with his legs pointed towards the Chair on 28 December 1995. ( Subhas Chandra Pattanayak’s Column in Sambad, dt.05 January 1996.) No MLA had behaved so obnoxiously prior to him. He holds that record till date even though a decade has elapsed.

This is recalled to say that people having no respect for law and democratic decorum have come to represent our people in the ramparts of democracy taking advantage of uneducated enfranchisement. It cannot be said that by virtue of being a Speaker one changes overnight. After all a human being is a human being and a human being is an animal of habits. A politician’s habit is to support to or stand with the party he belongs to; because not by personal strength but by the strength of the party one occupies power. Therefore it cannot be expected that Maheswar Mohanty cannot have any weakness for his party. Then it cannot be outright rejected that he is partisan.

But who else is not? With Biju Patnaik as Leader of Opposition, the House had fallen so deep into the level of mudslinging that the then Speaker Kishore Patel had to jump over the barricade of self-discipline befitting his position in a rush to hurl slang at the unrelenting members of the Opposition on 19 July 1995. He had to apologize only after Ramakrishna Pattanayak and B.K.Deo posted notices for no-confidence motion against the Speaker.

This I mention to show that not only Maheswar Mohanty but also others during their respective incumbency have shown such symptoms that in common perception, Speaker’s supposed impartiality has been eclipsed by a feeling of the shadow of his party. This ought to change.

The Speaker’s ruling cannot be challenged in a court of law. Hence, whether or not Speaker Mohanty has violated law of natural justice by subjecting three Congress MLAs to cash penalty without letting them explain their position cannot be challenged in any court of law. But they can challenge the decision of the Governor in an appropriate Court if he refuses to step in. In that case the legality of the Speaker’s ruling can be put on the matrix of justice and in that event the outcome may not suit the dignity the Speaker is required to safeguard.

Not only in our State but also in other States it is often alleged that the Speakers are acting, contrary to expectation, in partisan manner. This is too serious a syndrome that a democracy can slough over. Hence we must search for a remedy.

To initiate a debate I suggest that the Speaker must be chosen beyond the Treasury Bench and Opposition. No politician having affiliation to any political party should be allowed to contest for and hold the Speaker post.

How could this be possible is a matter that we will find out if you agree to this suggestion.

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