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HC Stays De-recognition of Debabrata Saikia as Leader of the Opposition

GUWAHATI: The Gauhati High Court today stayed the Assam government’s notification stripping the leader of the opposition status from Nazira Congress MLA Debabrata Saikia.

The Assam Legislative Assembly Secretariat had on January 1 notified that the leader of Congress Legislature Party, Debabrata Saikia was de-recognised as the leader of the opposition in the state Assembly as the Congress fell short of the one-sixth if total number MLAs in the 126-member House. The Congress has been left with 19 MLAs following the defection of Goalghat MLA Ajanta Neog and Lakhipur MLA Rajdeep Goala to the BJP. Earlier, the party was reduced to 21 after the deaths of former Speaker Pranab Gogoi and former chief minister Tarun Gogoi.

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.

Appearing for Saikia in a Writ Petition (C) No. 182/2021, advocate Satyen Sarma submitted that an MLA holding the position of leader of the opposition needs to fulfill 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.

One has to be the leader of the recognised party having the greatest numerical strength in the opposition. And, the MLA concerned has to be recognised as the leader of the largest recognised opposition party by the Speaker. As such, Sarma contended that since Saikia fulfilled both of these requirements and since the notification did not withdraw his recognition for non-fulfillment of these requirements, he was still legally entitled to remain the leader of the opposition.

Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua noted that the Congress was indeed the largest recognised party in the opposition in Assam Assembly 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 Congress Legislature Party as on date.

Further, the judge noted that the issue of the Congress MLAs not forming one-sixth of the total members of the House is unrelated to 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 law and the facts of the case.

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