Gauhati HC stays order on Debabrata Saikia
Gauhati High Court on Tuesday stayed the operation of a January 1 Assam Legislative Assembly Secretariat notification derecognising state Congress Legislature Party leader Debabrata Saikia as the leader of the Opposition in the House.
The stay was based on the ground that the Congress was the largest recognised party in the House having the greatest numerical strength in the Opposition. The Congress has 20 MLAs in the 126-member House. Additionally, there was no material to indicate that Saikia was not the CLP leader as on day.
The court also issued notices returnable within two weeks to the secretary and principal secretary of the Assam Legislative Assembly, along with the chief secretary, Assam.
Saikia, a two-time MLA from Nazira constituency, on Tuesday evening shared details of the case through a press release on Tuesday.
Appearing for Saikia in Writ Petition (C) No. 182/2021, advocate Satyen Sarma, a former additional advocate general of Assam, submitted that an MLA holding the position of Leader of the Opposition needs to fulfil two requirements under Rule 2(1)(p) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Assam Legislative Assembly and Section 2 of The Salary and Allowances of the Leader of the Opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly Act, 1978.
First, one has to be the leader of the largest recognised party, i.e. the party having the greatest numerical strength in the Opposition. Secondly, the MLA concerned has to be recognised as the leader of the largest recognised Opposition party by the Speaker.
As such, Satyen Sarma contended that since Saikia fulfilled both of these requirements and since the notification under challenge did not withdraw his recognition for non-fulfilment of these requirements, he is still legally entitled to remain the Leader of the Opposition.
Sarma was assisted by advocates Jayanta Deka, Tarun Krishna Bhuyan, Sanjeeb Kumar Deka and Angaj Gautam.
Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua in his order noted that the Congress is indeed the largest recognised party in the Opposition in the House as of today since its MLAs have the greatest numerical strength in the Opposition.
Additionally, there was no material to indicate that Saikia is not the Leader of the INC Legislature Party as of today. Further, the Judge noted that the issue of the Congress MLAs not forming one-sixth of the total members of the House is unrelated to recognition of Saikia as Leader of the Opposition as per the relevant Act and Rules.
“In such a scenario, the court was of the preliminary view that the notification under challenge was ‘unsustainable’ under law and the facts of the case. Therefore, in view of Sarma having made out a prima facie case in favour of Saikia, and considering the ‘balance of convenience and irreparable injury’ which may be otherwise caused to Saikia, the honourable court was pleased to stay the operation of the Notification,” the press release said.
The January 1 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.