AG's sitting in the House sparks controversy

| 07 March 2000 23:08 IST

The office of the advocate general has once again become a matter of controversy, this time in Goa, over what position does he hold in the Legislative Assembly and also with a fear that it could set a 'wrong' trend in the country.

The issue sparked off just before prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee entered the lavishly built House of the new Assembly complex of Goa, to inaugurate it on Sunday. The state AG was sitting in the hall among the members of the House at the function.

Adv Amrut Kansar, the former MP and a local constitutional expert, shouted from the visitors' gallery objecting to the AG sitting among the legislators. "The appointment of AG is political, which does not mean he is an active politician", he commented later.

Adv Atmaram Nadkarni, the young AG, has however fully justified his sitting in the House, claiming that his position comes next to the council of ministers as per the protocol as well as Article 177 of the Constitution of India.

"Every Minister and the Advocate-General for a State shall have the right to speak in, and otherwise to take part in the proceedings of, the Legislative Assembly of the State or,… any committee of the Legislature of which he may be named a member, but shall not, by virtue of this article, be entitled to vote", states Art 177.

"I have gone by the constitution. If any constitutional expert feels otherwise, they are free to approach the constitution bench on the matter", states speaker Pratapsing Rane, who has been also the state chief minister for over ten years in the past.

Adv Ramakant Khalap, former union law minister and presently the local MLA here, however has alleged that the speaker's office has clearly violated the protocol by allowing the AG to sit among the MLAs when it was not sitting of the House but a function, while other dignitaries above the AG were made to sit in the galleries.

While chief minister Francisco Sardinha also upholds the action of the speaker under provisions of Art 177, Rane justifies his action even if it was not the sitting of the House. "It is the speaker's prerogative. Those who take part in the proceedings were invited to sit in the main Assembly hall", he says.

Kansar as well as Khalap however fear far-reaching consequences of this small incident as, they feel, the AG has been given undue weightage which can set a bad precedent in the country. The AG cannot be equated with the minister, they feel.

Khalap points out that the AG is not responsible to the House while the ministers are. They have to get elected within six months as the member of the House. Kansar also observes that the AG cannot be cross-examined in the House like the minister and no discussion but only clarifications are permissible on the AG's statement.

"The AG is placed immediately after the council of ministers as per the warrant of precedence. In Andhra Pradesh, the AG is placed at a much higher rank, even above several cabinet ministers", claims Adv Nadkarni, the AG.

The right of the AG as per Art 177 is subject to the duties set out in Art 165. The position in Great Britain, Australia and India or even in other Parliamentary democracies is no different. All democracies insist that a non-member must get elected within a specified period, observes Adv Khalap, now a Congressman.

"The AG, being a mere appointee to perform specific duties, is not expected to participate in the proceedings of the House as a member of the House would do. He is expected to attend the House only when his services are requisitioned and give legal advice sought on the matters referred or assigned to him", he adds.

The whole issue is finally boiled down to whether the AG could be equated with the ministers (who are non-members) in the House and where does he stands in the Assembly's protocol. The debate would perhaps continue here with the speaker and the chief minister disagreeing with the others and justifying their action.

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