The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Speaker sets up emergency debate

New Delhi, March 11: Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has called an emergency meeting of presiding officers of all states and Union territories in the wake of confusing signals sent out by the ruling Congress on initiating a presidential reference over the Supreme Court's Jharkhand order.

Chatterjee, as chairman of the Conference of Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies in India, decided on a March 20 meeting here even as the BJP threatened a no-confidence motion against him for 'contempt of court'.

After an all-party meeting yesterday that the BJP left midway, the Speaker had proposed the presidential reference on the apex court's order that advanced the Jharkhand floor test and directed its videographing.

'Irrespective of who thinks what, I am not for retracting my statement (of yesterday) nor am I adding a sentence to it,' Chatterjee said today. He clarified that his job was to protect the dignity of Parliament and that his conscience was clear.

Chatterjee said he had the highest respect for the Supreme Court but felt the reference should be made as it was the view of all parties at yesterday's meeting.

The March 20 meeting would discuss the relationship between the three organs of the state ' Parliament, judiciary and executive. Also on the table would be ways to ensure that they do not set themselves on a collision course in the backdrop of the apex court's order.

Sources said Chatterjee was 'greatly disturbed' by the court order and was of the view that the presiding officers needed to discuss its ramifications.

He had convened the all-party meeting after political parties expressed concern over the order. At its conclusion, the overwhelming view was to make a presidential reference to the apex court.

According to the sources, Chatterjee had yesterday wanted to make a statement in the Lok Sabha on judicial intervention in the legislative arena.

The draft statement he had prepared did not mention presidential reference. But he did not go ahead with it after V.K. Malhotra, the BJP's deputy leader in the House, suggested that he wait.

The Speaker then suggested the all-party meeting, to which Malhotra agreed. The statement that was issued after the meeting incorporated the point about the presidential reference in view of the overwhelming opinion in its favour.

As for the Congress not taking a position on the judiciary-versus-legislature issue, a senior minister explained it with the help of a joke.

'A railway lineman,' he said, 'once boasted to his family that he had lots of power, enough to even stop a train. His wife challenged him and asked for a demonstration. When a superfast train was speeding down the track, he waved a red flag and stopped it. He was elated and so was his family.

'A couple of days later, a railway superintendent came calling and slapped him for stopping the train. When the upset wife asked why, the lineman said: 'That was my power, this is his power'.'

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