Speaker is above Party & Govt
Banshan Lyngdoh makes interesting and pertinent observations in his letter “Be impartial, Mr Speaker, Sir!” (ST Feb 17,2021). In fact, I compliment him for his knowledge of the unique constitutional position that the Speaker holds in this country and elsewhere. He is spot on when he argues that it is not the job profile of the Speaker to meddle with the government’s affairs. Seldom have I heard of a Speaker getting involved in governance. Legislature is supposed to be as independent as our Judiciary is. In some of the western countries, like in the UK, it’s once a speaker always a speaker. Speaker enjoys a special status and unique position. UK Speaker with all the traditional regalia and stipulated Long Coat enters the House with such royal finesse that is a treat to the eyes. In UK usually the Speaker has to seek re-election every five years. Because the Speaker does not partake in the day to day politics of survival, he is usually granted free passage by other political parties. Indeed, in this country too the Speaker enjoys an exulted position in our parliamentary democracy. The only difference is that although the Speaker has to sever ties with his political party, he remains focussed on his constituency. For, he has to ensure his return to the House five years later.
In Meghalaya, the Speaker holds a respected position. Both sides of the House have generally shown respect for the chair. There are a few jarring exceptions though. One partisan Speaker who being politically motivated, declined to adhere to the rule book. He suspended six members on political expediency. After brazenly defying law and political niceties, he was brought down to his knees through court intervention. Another time, because of political turmoil and instability, another speaker had the misfortune of being targeted by a member of the House who went threateningly up to the Speaker’s ramp for taking him on physically. There are some more instances when the Speaker did not acquit himself well. But that’s not the purpose of this letter. Our focus is the Meghalaya Assembly Speaker’s unfazed direct involvement in taking governmental decisions. The question is, as Lyngdoh rightly pointed out, whether the Speaker has transgressed. Indeed, he has, perhaps, quite unwittingly. Let us not forget that our Hon’ble Speaker is concurrently the President of the political party that is part of the ruling coalition. As President of UDP he has to remain active in steering the course of the coalition. That is his political compulsion. But this blatant practice is repugnant to the Constitution and the established parliamentary practice.
Honestly, why blame the incumbent Speaker? After all, a precedent was made by his predecessor Late Don Kupar Roy who was both Speaker and UDP President. That’s where the wrong precedent had been created. That there is no such instance in the entire country, makes Meghalaya dubiously unique. To observers, this sacrifice of the time-tested constitutional practice of Speaker’s open partisanship is worrisome. Those holding Constitutional office should be careful not to violate the letter and spirit of the Constitution. I feel, that the Speaker should be told to resign as UDP President forthwith in order to maintain a modicum of neutrality of the Speaker’s chair. In any case, he should not be seen openly influencing decision-making of the present government and also letting the public know about it. Every Speaker gets his political job done but only with subtlety. Most Speakers have done it in the past. He should follow the same to avoid controversies that Lyngdoh has raised through his letter.
N K Sharma,
Where’s Meghalaya’s Water Policy?
Apropos the news item “Formulate policy to provide potable water to citizens: High Court directs state govt” (ST Feb 24, 2021), I am reminded of a news item in 2019 where Chief Minister Conrad Sangma tweeted that Meghalaya is the first state to come up with a water policy. His tweet read, “The cabinet after detailed deliberation approved the Meghalaya State Water Policy 2019. It is historic for Meghalaya as we have become the first State in the country to have a State water policy.” The PMO and the Water Resources Minister were tagged to this tweet. Now the Government has got a rap in the knuckles for failing to provide water to its citizens even within the state capital, leave alone the rural habitats where people have to walk long distances to fetch water. This task usually falls on women. But Meghalaya being a failed state, even the fact that the taps run dry and people are forced to buy water from tankers is normalised. We take all this in our stride because we have developed fortitude to live as citizens of a lesser God. Incidentally, the numerous pressure groups never take up such citizen-centric issues because they are on a different trip.
The claims made by the PHED that many villages are open defecation free (ODF) are false. A resident of Nongmynsong the only place for regular walkers like me is along the Umkaliar River. I see piles of human defecation and I would ask the PHED officials to visit the place to see this for themselves before making tall claims about any place being open defecation free. I say this because human fecal matter enters water sources and pollute the water that comes through pipes to our homes. Many of us might have expensive water filters but many don’t have that facility. I have seen children drinking water straight from open taps. How dangerous this is! No wonder we are still prone to dysentery, diarrhoea and even typhoid. And we live in the 21st century?
Sometimes I wonder why we vote the same people who have cheated us out of our entitlements, including water which is our basic right. The United Nations says, “It is vital to recognize first the basic right of all human beings to have access to clean water and sanitation at an affordable price. It is not as if we are not paying for water either to the Government or the Dorbar Shnong. I wonder if the proposed water policy will insert this clause by the UN so that we can hold the Government accountable.