Can leader of opposition status be withdrawn? Supreme Court to decide

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine an important constitutional question — Can a Speaker or chairman withdraw the ‘leader of opposition’ recognition from the leader of a party which has the highest numerical strength among opposition groups, but its number is below 10% of House strength. The decision could have a bearing on the functioning of vital democratic institutions like Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, assemblies and legislative councils.

“Once there is a house for representatives elected by the people, there is a party with majority which holds reins of governance and there are opposition parties. Once there are opposition parties, the leader of the one with highest numerical strength should ideally be declared the leader of the opposition. That is the ethos of democracy,” said a bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala.
The bench made this observation while entertaining a petition filed by Samajwadi Party member Lal Bihari Yadav, challenging an Allahabad high court judgment upholding a notification issued by UP Vidhan Parishad (Legislative Council) on July 7 last year withdrawing the LoP status conferred on him two days before ( July 5). The 100-member Parishad had withdrawn the LoP recognition from Yadav as the strength of SP in the Council reduced from 12 on July 5 to 9 on July 7, which was less than 10% of the strength of the Parishad.

Appearing for Yadav, senior advocate Shyam Divan said that in the House, 90 members are elected while 10 are nominated. If the strength of elected members is taken into account, then SP had 10% strength, he said. Divan also said that in the Delhi assembly, when BJP strength was just three in the 70-member House, the leader of opposition status was given to one of the BJP MLAs.

He also questioned whether the 10% of the total strength of the House, as applied in Lok Sabha and assemblies, could be applied to legislative councils in the absence of specific rules in this regard. The bench observed that some value should be ascribed to LoP position in a democracy and sought response of the principal secretary of the UP legislative council to Yadav’s special leave petition challenging the HC decision.

It would be noteworthy that the first, second, third, fifth, seventh, eighth and 16th Lok Sabha as well as first, second, third, fifth, seventh and eighth Rajya Sabha had no leader of opposition recognised by the Speaker or chairman, respectively, due to the application of 10% rule in these years, since no single opposition party had strength more than 10% of the total membership of the House concerned.