Floor test in Karnataka Assembly today at 4 pm: SC must guard against overreach, trying to run the House

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the selection of KG Bopaiah as pro tem Speaker to preside over the vote of confidence today. It is claimed that the governor has breached established convention by inviting Bopaiah as pro tem Speaker as the position is meant to go to the senior-most legislator in the House.

 Floor test in Karnataka Assembly today at 4 pm: SC must guard against overreach, trying to run the House

File image of the Supreme Court of India. Reuters

It's essential to note that this doesn't mean the oldest legislator but the legislator who has served the longest terms in the House. The Congress says that this person is eight-time MLA RV Deshpande.

The issue with this move is that while there is a convention to do so, the convention may not be a hard-and-fast rule. The governor could have picked a BJP legislator as it is the single largest party and may be eligible to determine who the Speaker finally is.

But the argument against this is that the senior-most member is the one in whom the House has most confidence for the sake of neutrality. Given that the situation in Karnataka is such that no side's Speaker can look neutral anymore, it's going to be a tough one to decide.

One can't guess what the court will do, of course. The court may do as it did on Friday: Pass interim orders and decide that the issue will need a further hearing. Friday was the last working day for the Supreme Court, so the fact that the the same bench that dealt with the petition on Friday is assembling, is something that needs to be noted.

The hearing is fixed for 10.30 am and one expects the order to be out well in time for the floor test at 4 pm. The Speaker of a House has significant powers when it comes to procedural rules of the House and ideally, the pro tem Speaker exists to fulfil a procedural void.

Unlike Upper Houses that never dissolve and always have a presiding officer, in Lower Houses, the Speaker loses his seat when elections are called and must be elected by the House again. The Speaker is important as she/he manages the debate in the house. If there is a debate in Karnataka, the Speaker will determine which MLA gets to be heard and how long the MLA will be heard.

It is unclear as of now if BS Yeddyurappa will address the House prior to the vote or if there will even be a debate. The Supreme Court has ordered a floor test at 4 pm, but it will be an excessive overreach of the court to decide how the House is to conduct its business. Proceedings of the House are ordinarily not subject to judicial review because of the privilege of the House.

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Updated Date: May 19, 2018 08:05:19 IST