Day 2 Oral Hearing: Maharashtra MLA Suspension

Maharashtra MLA Suspension

After two days of hearings, the Supreme Court appears inclined to grant relief to 12 BJP MLAs suspended from the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. The MLAs are currently serving the seventh month of what they allege is an unlawful one year suspension. They were suspended for the allegedly unparliamentary act of threatening the Speaker. The Bench was concerned that leaving the MLAs’ seats vacant for an entire year will result in their constituencies going unrepresented, threatening democracy. Justice A.M Khanwilkar commented that the suspensions punished not just  the MLAs but also their constituencies. 

Justices Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar observed that the suspension forced the MLAs to remain absent from the Assembly for a much longer period than the sixty days permitted by Article 190(4). The provision requires seats vacant for longer than sixty days to be filled to ensure representation. The Bench found that the suspensions had caused a substantive legal issue threatening democracy. The Bench, therefore, rejected the Maharashtra Government’s argument that the only defects in the suspensions were procedural and that the Court may not intervene in legislative decisions based on procedural irregularities. 

Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for the suspending MLAs, argued that the suspensions were without jurisdiction and in violation of procedure. He submitted that the suspensions were not made by the Speaker in exercise of his powers to maintain decorum in the House under the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules, 2015. Instead, the House passed a resolution by majority to suspend the MLAs. Mr. Jethmalani argued that the MLAs were not given a chance to defend themselves in this process, which violated the principles of natural justice. The Bench agreed with this argument, observing that the confusion could have been avoided had theSpeaker adjudicated the suspensions. Khanwilkar J stated that permitting long term suspensions by majority decision-making may have dangerous effects on democracy.  

Further, the Bench expressed agreement with Senior Advocate Siddharth Bhatnagar, appearing for the suspended MLAs. Mr. Bhatnagar stated that the suspensions were effectively worse than expulsion. If the MLAs’ offences had been grave enough for expulsion, their vacant seats would have been filled in six months as per the Representation of People Act, 1951. In the case of these suspensions, the constituencies would be unrepresented for much longer. 

The Maharashtra Government has been granted one week to respond. The case will be heard next on January 18th, 2021.