Judgment Summary: Maharashtra MLA SuspensionMaharashtra MLA Suspension
Providing relief to 12 BJP MLAs from Maharashtra and their constituents, the Supreme Court held that the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly’s resolution suspending the MLAs for one year was illegal, unreasonable and unconstitutional. Justice Khanwilkar’s Judgment observed that the Assembly’s power to suspend members is a ‘self-security’ power to maintain order in the House. It cannot be used to punish disorderly MLAs with suspensions exceeding the amount of time necessary to restore order in the House.
The power to suspend MLAs is one of the Assembly’s inherent legislative privileges. The Constitution bars the Court from intervening in procedural irregularities in the exercise of legislative privileges to ensure separation of powers. In this case, however, the Bench held that the problems presented by the suspension were not merely procedural. The suspension endangered democratic principles as the constituencies that the 12 MLAs came from would remain unrepresented for a year. Arbitrary use of the power to suspend may allow governments formed on thin majorities to keep opposition MLAs from voting on contentious issues. It would discourage opposition MLAs from voicing their opinions in the Assembly for fear of arbitrary suspension. Accordingly, the Court found it fit to intervene.
Suspension Must Be in Conformity With Constitution and Rule 53
The Judgment observed that even though the Constitution does not expressly recognize any limits on legislative privileges, they must be subject to the provisions of the Constitution. The Constitution mandates that one can be deprived of fundamental rights only through procedure established by law. In this case, the Bench held that the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rule 2015, codified by the Assembly to govern its proceedings, is procedure established by law. The Maharashtra government’s argument that the Assembly can change the Rules at its pleasure and hence the Rules did not have the force of law was rejected.
This argument was relevant to determine whether the Assembly was bound to follow Rule 53 while suspending MLAs. Rule 53 empowers the Speaker to maintain order in the House by suspending MLA in a graded manner. The period of suspension can be increased with every successive incident of misconduct but never beyond the remainder of the ongoing session.
The Maharashtra government had argued that the Assembly was not required to follow Rule 53. In this case, the 12 BJP MLAs were suspended by a majority resolution, not by the Speaker. The graded manner of suspension was not followed as well.
The Bench held that the Assembly could suspend through a majority resolution and deviate from the procedure of suspension set out in Rule 53. However, the ‘substantive stipulation’ of the provision had the force of law. The substantive stipulation was held to mean that the power to suspend can only be used for self-security and not to punish. The graded manner of suspension was also included in the substantive stipulation. Simply put, the Bench held that the Assembly could only suspend MLAs for the limited period necessary to restore order in the House.
If the misconduct was grave enough to warrant punishment, the Assembly should have used the power to expel the MLAs. In this case, the prolonged suspension was worse than expulsion. If the MLAs had been expelled, their vacancy would have been filled through re-elections. The constituency, hence, would not go unrepresented.
The Judgment held that the one year period of suspension had no nexus with the self-security rationale of the power to suspend. The suspension was held to be irrational and hence unconstitutional. The 12 suspended MLAs can now return to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.