The Congress on Tuesday contested the Assam Assembly speaker’s “shocking and unfortunate” decision to withdraw the leader of Opposition status accorded to Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Debabrata Saikia from January 1.
Assembly Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami’s decision came to light on Monday.`
According to the official notification, the Opposition Congress does not have the requisite one-sixth House strength in the 126-member Assembly to hold the post of the leader of the Opposition.
Saikia, 56, is a two-time MLA from the Nazira constituency in Upper Assam Congress at present has 20 MLAs in the House, but it needs 21 to hold the post.
The party had won 26 seats in the 2016 Assembly elections to emerge as the single largest party. Two of its members died, while two others have resigned. It lost two seats held by it in the bypolls.
CLP secretary Durga Bhumij, in a letter to Goswami, said it was “unfortunate and shocking” that at the fag end of the 14th Assam Legislative Assembly, the Speaker considered it “appropriate” to withdraw the Leader of the Opposition status from the Congress, which is “without any ambiguity” the single-largest Opposition party in the Assembly.
“Due to the sudden demise of few members and defection of few others belonging to the INC, the number of members has decreased but we are still the single-largest Opposition in the House,” Bhumij said.
The notification withdrawing Saikia’s status had said: “The present strength of the Indian National Congress Legislature Party, Assam Legislative Assembly, is not equal to the quorum fixed to constitute a sitting of the House that is one-sixth of the total number of Members of the House as required... therefore, the Hon’ble Speaker, Assam Legislative Assembly, has been pleased to withdraw the recognition of Debabrata Saikia, MLA, as Leader of the Opposition, with effect from January 1, 2021.”
Bhumij has cited two Assembly regulations in his letter to justify his point.
According to Section 2 of Salary and Allowances of the Leader of Opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly Act, 1978, “Leader of Opposition” denotes that member of the Legislative Assembly who, for the time being, is the Leader of the Opposition party having the greatest numerical strength in the House and recognised as such by the Speaker.
“Further, as per the Rule 2(1)(p) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Assam Legislative Assembly, it is stipulated that “leader of the Opposition” means the leader of the largest recognised party in the Opposition and recognised as such by the Speaker. So, there is no scope of any 1/6th rule of quorum being applicable for the purpose of deciding the position of “Leader of the Opposition”, when the Act as well as the Rule have amply clarified the definition,” Bhumij contended.
Bhumij cited the examples of Chhattisgarh (BJP with only 14 out of 90 Assembly seats), West Bengal (Congress with 23 seats out of 294), Delhi (BJP with only 8 seats out of 70) Opposition leaders are being bestowed with the status despite having far less seats than so-called 1/6th rule of quorum.
“In essence, the matter boils down to discretion of the Speaker and it is evident from the example of other Legislative Assemblies of our country that the norm is to go by parliamentary tradition rather than numbers,” Bhumij said.
Urging Goswami, who belongs to the BJP to “rise” above party line and revoke the notification withdrawing Saikia’s status, Bhumij said there was ample scope to assert that an error of judgment has been made in this case, perhaps because the Secretary of the Assam Legislative Assembly “lacks” legal acumen.
“It is a point to ponder that the notification dated 1st January was issued only after office hours on 4th January. I, therefore, call upon you to rise above the party line and desist from doing something which is not only arbitrary, but also unlawful and against the statutory provisions,” Bhumij said.