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National
Leader of Opposition issue: Lok Sabha Speaker rejects Congress’ demand
20-08-2014

NEW DELHI: Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan on Tuesday formally rejected the Congress’ demand for being accorded the status of Leader of Opposition in the House. “I have gone by rules and tradition,” she said.

“A letter has gone (to the Congress),” official sources said. Congress president and parliamentary party leader Sonia Gandhi had earlier written to Mahajan seeking the status of the Leader of Opposition for Mallikarjun Kharge, the party’s floor leader in the Lok Sabha.

Though the ruling dispensation’s inclination to deny the vital post to the Congress was well-known, the Speaker also obtained the opinion of Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi, who was understood to have maintained that the Congress did not possess the requisite numbers to claim the post.

The Congress has only 44 members in the Lok Sabha. Though it is the second largest party after the BJP (282 members), it still falls short of the 55 members — 10 per cent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha — needed for staking claim to the post.

The Speaker was understood to have pointed this out to the Congress. Mahajan also cited precedents of 1980 and 1984, when there was no recognised Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha. The Congress happened to be in power then.

Reacting to the decision, Kharge said he would consult the party high command and the AICC legal cell before giving his opinion. “Being recognised as Leader of the Opposition is one thing and functioning as floor leader is another,” he said.

The status of Leader of Opposition gains significance in the context of requirements of law relating to appointments of statutory bodies like Central Information Commission (CIC). The appointments of CIC and Central Vigilance Commissioner are done by the President on the basis of the recommendation of a three-member committee comprising the Prime Minister, Home Minister and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.

The chairperson and members of Lokpal are selected by a committee headed by the Prime Minister with four other members — Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Chief Justice of India or a judge of the apex court nominated by him, and an eminent jurist who could be nominated by the President or any other member.

The Speaker had said on Monday that she does not have any personal discretion and that the House can change rules if it felt it was necessary.

“A Speaker is supposed to follow rules. I have to go by rules. There are ‘Directions of the Speaker’ which mandate 10 per cent strength for a party in the Lok Sabha to be recognised as Leader of the Opposition.

“If anybody wants a change in them, then a committee can be formed to look into them. But I need to follow the rules. I cannot do anything on this,” Mahajan said.