The Gauhati High Court has stayed a gazette notification issued on January 1, 2021, that derecognises Congress leader Debabrata Saikia as Leader of the Opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly. The court also issued notices to the Secretary and Principal Secretary of the Assam Legislative Assembly, as well as the Chief Secretary of Assam. A response if expected within two weeks.
The BJP-led government in the state had issued the notification that said, “The present strength of Indian National Congress Legislature Party in 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 under the aforementioned provisions and therefore, the Hon’ble Speaker, Assam Legislative Assembly, has been pleased to withdraw the recognition of Shri Debabrata Saikia, MLA, as Leader of the Opposition, Assam Legislative Assembly w.e.f. 1st January, 2021.”
The Congress, at present, has 20 members in the 126-member state legislature at present as opposed to 26 that had been originally elected, owing to death or defection of members.
In court, Saikia’s lawyer 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. The requirements are:
·The MLA has to be leader of the largest recognised party. This means the Opposition party having the largest number of elected members.
·The MLA has to be recognised as the leader of the largest recognised Opposition party by the Speaker.
In its order the court noted that the Congress was indeed the Opposition party with the largest number of MLAs. Moreover, the issue of Congress MLAs not forming one-sixth of the total members of the house was unrelated to recognition of Saikia as Leader of the Opposition. Additionally, there was nothing to indicate that Saikia was not the leader of the Congress legislature party.
SabrangIndia had previously reported, there is another way to look at the matter of the “one-sixth” rule. Given how byelections have not been conducted in all the seats that were rendered vacant due to deaths or defections, the present strength of the Assam Legislative Assembly is actually 119, instead of 126. Thus, the 20 members of the Congress fall well within the “one-sixth” rule.