SC raps Maharashtra speaker over delay in disqualification pleas – Hindustan Times

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New Delhi The Supreme Court on Friday pulled up the Maharashtra assembly speaker Rahul Narwekar, saying that he’s reduced the adjudication of the disqualification petitions against Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde and lawmakers who backed him last year to a “charade”, and making it clear that he must decide these petitions “well before” the next assembly polls, which are almost a year away.
Disapproving of the timeline of disqualification proceedings set down by Narwekar a week ago, a bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud directed him to submit a revised timeline by October 17, adding the court will put in place a schedule on its own if Narwekar’s schedule does not indicate a serious effort on his part to decide the matter quickly.
The bench, which also included justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, was irate at Narwekar’s schedule of disqualification proceedings, according to which, cross-examination and recording to evidence will be concluded by November and the speaker will subsequently decide when to place the proceedings for final hearing.
Narwekar’s note did not mention the outer limit by which the proceedings had to get over, senior counsel Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Devadatt Kamat, representing the Uddhav Thackeray camp – the petitioner in the matter — complained, adding that the endeavour seemed to render these proceedings meaningless since the assembly elections in Maharashtra are due in October 2024.
While 39 petitions have been filed by the Thackeray faction against Shinde and the members of legislative assembly (MLAs) supporting him under the anti-defection law, more than a dozen disqualification petitions remain pending against the MLAs of the Thackeray group too.
Irked by an open-ended schedule, the bench called upon solicitor general (SG) Tushar Mehta, who was appearing for the speaker. “Mr Solicitor, somebody has to advise the speaker. He cannot defeat the orders of the Supreme Court like this. What kind of time schedule is he prescribing? This is a summary procedure. Last time, we thought a better sense would prevail and asked him to lay down a schedule. The idea of laying down the schedule was not to indefinitely delay the hearing,” it told Mehta.
The court added that the speaker must give the impression that he is taking the matter seriously. Our order came in May. Since June, there has been no action in the matter…What has happened in the case? Nothing. This cannot become a charade. There must be a hearing,” it said.
Responding, Mehta said that he did not feel that the court would seek a day-to-day schedule of the speaker, who remains a constitutional authority despite acting as a tribunal in matters of disqualification.
But the bench retorted: “As a tribunal, the speaker is certainly amenable to the jurisdiction of this court. The procedure being prescribed by him must give the impression that he is deciding it expeditiously. We issued notice on this petition on July 14. Thereafter, we passed an order in September expecting a reasonable time schedule. Now, we find there is no such effort by the speaker. Now seeing that the speaker has not taken any steps, we may be constrained to say that he must take a decision in two months.”
Upon disqualification, a member of a House loses its membership, and the seat is declared vacant. A consistent line of Supreme Court rulings has held that disqualification relates back to the date when the act of defection takes place. Thus, not only the membership of the 39 Shiv Sena MLAs but also the position of Shinde as CM is at stake.
At this point, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Shinde group, objected to the court passing the directions to the speaker to decide within a specific time frame. However, the bench reiterated that the court could put the speaker to account when he acts as a tribunal and he is delaying a decision despite the direction of the court.
“The decision has to be taken well before the next elections and this cannot go on merrily to render the whole process infructuous,” observed the bench, adding the Shinde faction should not be averse to a decision by the speaker if it is confident of the disqualification petitions filed against the other faction.
“We pay deference to all the authorities. But we are also clear that the writ of this court must be respected. It is our duty to intervene when there is a breach of constitutional mandate or there is a failure to take a decision in terms of the constitutional mandate,” it said.
The court then asked Mehta to convey the court’s views to Narwekar, making it clear that it would set down a schedule for the speaker to decide if he does not put forth a satisfactory timeline. “It’s a matter of concern that our orders are not being implemented,” the bench added.
The court was hearing a petition by Sunil Prabhu, a Shiv Sena (UBT) legislator in Maharashtra assembly, who as the chief whip of the undivided Sena, had filed separate disqualification petitions under the 10th schedule of the Constitution against 39 Sena MLAs, including Shinde. These petitions accused the rebel MLAs of defying the party whip in the House for the election of the speaker and the floor test.
The Shiv Sena suffered a vertical split last year when Shinde and 39 other legislators walked out of the party then led by Thackeray and joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form the government. By its judgment on May 11, a Constitution bench invalidated the Maharashtra governor’s decision asking then CM Thackeray to face a floor test last year and flagged a flurry of errors during the political drama that toppled the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, but refused to put Thackeray back in the saddle because he voluntarily resigned instead of facing the trust vote in the assembly.
At the time, the court left it for Narwekar to decide the disqualification petitions pending against both Shinde and Thackeray groups, rejecting Thackeray camp’s plea that the court should decide the disqualification petitions by itself because of the alleged bias of the BJP leader. By a separate decision on February 17, 2022, the Election Commission of India ruled that Shinde’s faction will inherit Shiv Sena party’s name and its bow-and-arrow symbol.
Narwekar on Friday said he did not want to delay the decision on the disqualification pleas against some Shiv Sena MLAs but asserted “just like justice delayed is justice denied, justice hurried is justice buried”. Speaking to news agency PTI, Narwekar, who is in Delhi for the P20 summit, said, “Just like justice delayed is justice denied, justice hurried is justice buried. I don’t want to delay proceedings. But I don’t want to hurry or jump the gun, which may result in breach of principles of natural justice that could eventually result in miscarriage of justice.”
Utkarsh Anand is Legal Editor at the Hindustan Times. He writes on law, judiciary and governance.


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