New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday gave a week’s time to Maharashtra Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar to open disqualification petitions against Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and other Shiv Sena MLAs, who are accused of defection, and asked him to set a time schedule to decide disqualification pleas. The top court made it clear that it expected the Speaker to show deference and dignity to its order to take a decision on disqualification petitions within a reasonable time.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and comprising justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said that the Speaker has to abide by the dignity of the Supreme Court and four months have passed since its judgment where the court asked the Speaker to decide the fate of Shiv Sena MLAs, including Eknath Shinde, who were accused of anti-party activities.
The apex court stressed that disqualification proceedings have hardly moved after the court’s judgment and asked the Speaker to take up the matter immediately. The Chief Justice said the Speaker cannot say that it'll be taken in due course. “Let him list the matter next week. And tell us after two weeks what actions have been taken….”, said the Chief Justice, adding that the matter cannot go on indefinitely. The bench emphasised that it wanted to know the progress on the matter and asked the Speaker to draw out a schedule to complete the hearing and his decision on the disqualification petitions.
During the hearing, the apex court said the Speaker has to abide by the dignity of the Supreme Court and stressed that he is a tribunal under the 10th schedule. The Chief Justice said as a tribunal he's amenable under this court's jurisdiction and months have passed since the apex court judgment and only notice has been issued in the matter.
The bench, in its order, said its judgment required the Speaker to decide the disqualification petitions within a reasonable period. “While this court is cognizant of the need for comity with the Speaker, we also expect the dignity of this court's judgment to be maintained. We direct that the speaker shall hear the matter no later than a period of one week”, said the bench.
The bench said, “We would equally expect deference and dignity to be shown to the direction which has been issued by the Supreme Court in the exercise of its constitutional power of judicial review”, said the bench.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray), submitted that his clients have filed three representations, May 15, May 23 and June 2, but there was no response from the Speaker, and then they filed a petition on July in the Supreme Court and the court issued notice on July 14 and the matter was listed on September 14. Sibal said the Speaker says you haven't filed annexures and clarified that the Speaker has to file annexures, not his clients. Sibal stressed that these are proceedings of a tribunal and “your lordships can issue a mandamus in proceedings of a tribunal.”
Sibal stressed that there is an illegal government in place and this is a serious matter. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the speaker, took objection to the nature of submissions made by Sibal and said this was an attempt to ridicule a constitutional functionary and said that two days back some 1,500 pages were given to us by them. “Please forget about the ridicule...Kindly see the chart. I am not in any politics. I'm only here to answer factual queries and legal queries”, said Mehta.
The Chief Justice orally remarked that it appeared that nothing had happened and told Mehta that the speaker had to decide the matter. The Chief Justice asked what the speaker did after the May 11 judgment by the court. Mehta said let us not forget one thing, the speaker is a constitutional functionary. Sibal said he is a tribunal. Mehta said maybe acting like a tribunal but we cannot ridicule him in front of other constitutional bodies.
Sibal cited apex court judge (retired) Rohinton F. Nariman’s January 2020 judgment in the Keisham Meghachandra Singh case, where the court gave speakers three months to decide the disqualification petitions.
The apex court has scheduled the matter for further hearing after two weeks. On July 14, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Maharashtra assembly speaker on a petition by Shiv Sena (UBT) MLA Sunil Prabhu seeking a direction to expedite decision on the disqualification petitions against rebel Shiv Sena MLAs led by Eknath Shinde.
On May 11, the Supreme Court asked the speaker, Rahul Narwekar, to decide the fate of 16 Shiv Sena MLAs, including Eknath Shinde, who were accused of anti-party activities. Prabhu's petition contended that three subsequent representations have been submitted by the petitioner to the speaker. “The constitutional requirement of fairness enjoins upon the Speaker the obligation to decide the question of disqualification in an expeditious manner. Any unreasonable delay on the part of the Speaker in deciding the petitions for disqualification contributes to and perpetuates the constitutional sin of defection committed by the delinquent members”, said the plea.
A total of 56 MLAs are facing disqualification under the Tenth Schedule and there are 34 disqualification petitions pending, waiting for the speaker to hear and decide.