The Gauhati High Court on Tuesday put an interim stay on the Assam Assembly secretary’s notification withdrawing recognition to Congress leader Debabrata Saikia as the Leader of the Opposition in the 126- member House. After hearing a writ petition filed by Saikia, Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua issued notices returnable within four weeks to the speaker, secretary and principal secretary of the Assembly, and the chief secretary of the state.
Saikia had filed the petition challenging the notification issued by the Assembly secretary on January 1, withdrawing his recognition as Leader of the Oppostion in the House. Saikia lost the status as the present strength of the party in the 126-member House is one less than the required number of 21 MLAs, the official notification 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,” the notification issued had said. While the BJP has 60 MLAs, the Congress now has 20 lawmakers. Four other seats, which the Congress had won in 2016 Assembly polls, are lying vacant.
Two of its members – former chief minister Tarun Gogoi and former speaker Pranab Gogoi – died, while Ajanta Neog and Rajdeep Goala joined the BJP. The petitioner contended through his lawyer 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 Allowance of the Leader of the Opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly Act, 1978.
The petitioner’s lawyer submitted before the court that under these two rules, 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.
The petitioner claimed that both these requirements were fulilled and since the notification under challenge did not withdraw his recognition for non-fulfillment of these requirements, he is still legally entitled to remain the Leader of the Opposition.