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Convention vs K'taka Precedent: Why Pro-Tem Speaker’s Appointment is Pivotal to Maharashtra Floor Test

The convention is to pick the senior-most MLA as Pro-tem Speaker, which in this case is Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat. But this tradition was broken last year during the Karnataka floor test.


Updated:November 26, 2019, 3:21 PM IST
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Convention vs K'taka Precedent: Why Pro-Tem Speaker’s Appointment is Pivotal to Maharashtra Floor Test
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and NCP president Sharad Pawar with MLAs from the NCP, Shiv Sena and Congress during a show of strength in Mumbai on November 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

New Delhi: With the Supreme Court ordering a floor test in Maharashtra on Wednesday, all eyes are on who the Governor will appoint as the Pro-tem Speaker to conduct the open ballot proceedings.

The convention has been to pick the MLA with most assembly terms as the Pro-tem Speaker, which in Maharashtra’s case is Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat with eight terms. Other frontrunners are BJP’s Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, Kalidas Nilkanth Kolambkar, Babanrao Pachpute, and Congress’ KC Padvi.

Who Exactly is a Pro-tem Speaker?

Pro-tem is a shortened version of the Latin phrase Pro tempore which means 'for the time being'. It is a temporary appointment in nature to only conduct immediate duties of the legislative house. In this case, the Pro-tem Speaker's job will be to conduct the floor test in a free and fair manner, the outcome of which will decide who'll form government in the state.

How is a Pro-tem Speaker Appointed?

The Governor has the power to appoint the Pro-tem Speaker after seeking recommendations from the chief minister, who right now is Devendra Fadnavis.

Does Seniority Matter

Many cite it as the convention. Congress leader and former CM Prithviraj Chavan reiterated on Tuesday that this convention should be followed to conduct the floor test on Wednesday. If seniority is to be the benchmark to select a Pro-tem Speaker, then Congress legislator Balasaheb Thorat, the senior-most in the 288-member assembly will be the automatic choice.

A rung below him are NCP's Dilip Walse-Patil, Jayant Patil and Ajit Pawar; Congress’ KC Padvi; BJP’s Kalidas Kolambkar and Babanrao Pachpute. BJP leader and speaker for the previous term, Haribhau Bagde, and NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal and BJP’s Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil are serving their sixth terms.

But this convention has not been followed strictly in recent cases. In the case of Karnataka, ignoring the seniority of many other MLAs, four-time BJP MLA KG Bopaiah was made the Pro-tem Speaker. Had convention been followed, eight-time MLA RV Deshpandey of the Congress should have been picked as the Pro-tem Speaker after his name was recommended by the legislature secretariat. Furious with Bopaiah’s appointment, the Congress had accused Governor Vajubhai Vala of acting like a “BJP agent”.

In March 2017, a similar controversy had erupted in Goa when two-term BJP MLA Sidharth Kuncalienkar was appointed Pro-tem Speaker before the floor test. Even then, Congress had protested his appointment as it “flouted” convention. A similar pattern was seen in Manipur, when a less experienced BJP MLA V Hangkhalian was appointed Pro-tem Speaker.

Does the Constitution Specify Responsibilities of the Pro-tem Speaker?

No, the Constitution does not mention the roles, functions and responsibilities of the Pro-tem Speaker. Article 100 (1) of the Constitution says, “… all questions at any sitting of either House or joint sitting of the Houses shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting, other than the Speaker or person acting as Chairman or Speaker. The Chairman or Speaker, or person acting as such, shall not vote in the first instance, but shall have and exercise a casting vote in the case of an equality of votes.”

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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