Gauhati High Court stays notification de-recognizing Debabrata Saikia as Leader of Opposition

The Gauhati High Court on Tuesday stayed the operation of the Notification issued by the Assam Legislative Assembly Secretariat on 1st January, 2021 whereby the Leader of the Assam Congress Legislature Party, Debabrata Saikia was de-recognized as the Leader of the Opposition in the House.

The Court also issued notices returnable within two weeks to the Secretary and Principal Secretary of the Assam Legislative Assembly, along with the Chief Secretary, Assam.

Appearing for Saikia in Writ Petition (C) No. 182/2021, Advocate Satyen Sarma submitted 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 Allowances of the Leader of the Opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly Act, 1978. Firstly, one has to be the Leader of the largest recognized party, i.e. the party having the greatest numerical strength in the Opposition. Secondly, the MLA concerned has to be recognized as the leader of the largest recognized Opposition party by the Speaker. As such, advocate Sarma contended that since Saikia fulfilled both of these requirements and since the Notification under challenge did not withdraw his recognition for non-fulfilment of these requirements, he is still legally entitled to remain the Leader of the Opposition.

The Single Judge, Achintya Malla Bujor Barua noted that the INC is indeed the largest recognized party in the Opposition in the House as of today since its MLAs have the greatest numerical strength in the Opposition. Additionally, there was no material to indicate that Saikia is not the Leader of the INC Legislature Party as of today. Further, the Judge noted that the issue of the INC MLAs not forming one-sixth of the total members of the House is unrelated to the recognition of Saikia as Leader of the Opposition as per the relevant Act and Rules.

In such a scenario, the Court was of the preliminary view that the Notification under challenge was unsustainable under the law and the facts of the case. Therefore, in view of Sarma having made out a prima facie case in favour of Saikia, and considering the balance of convenience and irreparable injury which may be otherwise caused to Saikia, the Court was pleased to stay the operation of the Notification.

Advocate Sarma was assisted in the court by advocates Jayanta Deka, Tarun Krishna Bhuyan, Sanjeeb Kumar Deka and Angaj Gautam.

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