IF PRO-TEM SPEAKER OF HP VIDHAN SABHA COMPETENT TO RECOGNIZE JAI RAM THAKUR AS LEADER OF OPPOSITION, ADVOCATE RAISES QUESTION.
If a pro-tem Speaker of a Legislative Assembly, who is appointed by the Governor of the State to administer Oath or Affirmation, as prescribed in the Third Schedule to Constitution of India, to newly elected members of the Vidhan Sabha (legislators) also possesses power to recognize the leader of the largest party in opposition as the Leader of Opposition (LoP) ?
This question assumes significance as this happened in the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh recently. On Dec 13, 2022, the Governor of Himachal Pradesh Rajendra Vishwantath Arlekar appointed Chander Kumar, six times elected Cong MLA from Jawali seat in Kangra district who has also been elected in newly constituted current14th HP Vidhan Sabha as Pro-tem Speaker so as to administer Oath or Affirmation to newly elected Members of the House (MLAs) under provisions of Article 188 of Constitution of India.
Pertinent that the first session of 14th HP Vidhan Sabha which was earlier scheduled from Dec 22, 2022 had to be rescheduled to Jan 4, 2023 after HP Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu tested positive for Covid-19 on Dec 19.
Meanwhile, on Dec 26, 2022, a Notification was published in the Official Gazette of the State Government mentioning that the Hon’ble Pro-tem Speaker, Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly has recognized Jai Ram Thakur, Member, Legislative Assembly as Leader of Opposition in the 14th Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly.
Amidst all this, an Advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court, Hemant Kumar, has raised an interesting but significant question over if the Pro-tem Speaker of HP Vidhan Sabha Chander Kumar, who was appointed by the Governor for the limited purpose of administering Oath or Affirmation to newly elected members of current 14th HP Vidhan Sabha indeed possess power to recognize the leader of the largest party in Opposition in current State Assembly viz. Jai Ram Thakur of BJP as Leader of Opposition especially because at that point of time i.e. on Dec 26, 2022, Thakur had not even taken Oath or Affirmation as member of newly constituted House which he took on Jan 4, 2023 i.e. on the first day of Session of current State Assembly.
Hemant also quotes the definition of Leader of Opposition as provided in Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in HP Legislative Assembly which stipulates Leader of the Opposition means the leader of the largest party in Opposition and recognised as such by the Speaker.
Now if the term Speaker in this definition which essentially means regular elected Speaker of the State Assembly also includes Pro-tem Speaker, who is however appointed by the Governor for the limited purpose of administering Oath or Affirmation to newly elected members of State Assembly, remains to be seen.
Hemant legally opines that it is only within the power of newly elected Speaker of 14th HP Vidhan Sabha, Kuldeep Singh Pathania, who is going to be elected unanimously on Jan 5, 2023 to recognize Jai Ram Thakur as Leader of Opposition in current 14th HP Vidhan Sabha. He recalls that 5 years ago in Aug, 2018, the then regular elected Speaker of 13th HP Assembly Rajeev Biindal had recognized Mukesh Agnihotri of Congress Party, the then largest party in Opposition in the Assembly as Leader of Opposition in the then House.