Maharashtra MLA Disqualification | Day 1: “Speaker must abide by the dignity of the Supreme Court”, says CJI ChandrachudDisqualification Proceedings Against Maharashtra MLAs
On 18 September 2023, a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud directed the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar to initiate disqualification proceedings against MLAs of the Thackeray and Shinde factions at the earliest.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal appeared for MLA Sunil Prabhu, the petitioner from the Thackeray faction. Prabhu had argued that Narwekar “failed to decide the disqualification petitions” against “delinquent members of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly”. Narwekar was represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Seniors Advocates Neeraj Kishan Kaul and Mahesh Jethmalani.
On 21 June 2022, Shiv Sena party member Mr. Eknath Shinde, went missing, along with several Shiv Sena MLAs. On the same day, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray called an emergency party meeting which the rebel MLAs refused to attend. The Shiv Sena removed Mr. Eknath Shinde as the Legislature-Party leader. Mr. Shinde responded claiming that he had the support of over 40 MLAs, and represented a significant portion of the party. He further said that, with a dwindling group of supporters, Mr. Thackeray was no longer the party’s chosen representative.
On 24 June 2022, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray urged the Deputy Speaker to begin disqualification proceedings against the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs, including Mr. Eknath Shinde, for defecting from the Shiv Sena. On the same day, two independent MLAs moved a ‘no confidence’ motion against the Deputy Speaker Mr. Zirwal, stultifying his power to decide on Shinde’s disqualification.
The next day (25 June 2022), Mr. Shinde’s faction of the Shiv Sena challenged the disqualification proceedings before the Supreme Court. On 27 June 2022, a Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Surya Kant and J.B. Pardiwala issued an unusual Order, staying the disqualification proceedings.
On 28 June 2022, the Shinde faction requested the Governor of Maharashtra, Mr. Bhagat Singh Koshyari to direct a floor test in the Assembly. Mr. Koshyari agreed to conduct the floor test on 30 June 2022. Immediately, the floor test was challenged by the Thackeray faction in the Supreme Court. After four hours of arguments, on 29 June 2022, the Supreme Court refused to stay the floor test. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray resigned within the hour, making way for the Shinde faction to consolidate power.
The Thackeray faction argued that the Shinde faction’s actions—disregard for the party Whip, appointment of a new Deputy Speaker, call for a floor test, and insistence of the Shinde faction’s majority—were all acts of defection.
On 6 September 2022, the Supreme Court announced that the case would be decided by a 5-Judge Constitution Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising Justices M.R. Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli, and P.S. Narasimha.
On 11 May 2023, the Constitution Bench held that the Governor had no objective material to call for a floor test. Further, it stated the speaker would decide whether the Eknath Shinde faction had defected from the Shiv Sena.
On 4 July 2023, Sunil Prabhu, a leader from the Thackeray faction, filed a plea in the Supreme Court to direct the Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly to decide on the disqualification of members in the Eknath Shinde faction.
Sibal: Disqualification Proceedings have become a “farce”
Calling the disqualification process so far a “farce”, Sibal argued there was a 1.5-year-long delay in the process. The initial disqualification petition was filed in June 2022 after the Shinde camp went “missing” and was found to be residing in Surat. Sibal referred to Keisham Meghchandra Singh v State of Manipur (2020) which held that a speaker should begin hearing disqualification petitions within three months of its filing. Currently, there are 34 disqualification petitions against 56 MLAs from the Thackeray and Shinde factions. He highlighted that the Speaker should urgently initiate the proceedings in this “serious matter” because there was an “illegal government” in place. The Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena has been in power in the state for over a year now.
Sibal underscored that the hearings carried out by a Speaker are “tribunal proceedings”, which come under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. He requested the top Court to issue a writ of mandamus directing the speaker to initiate the disqualification proceedings.
CJI: “Speaker has to abide by the dignity of the Supreme Court”
CJI Chandrachud noted that “nothing had happened” in the disqualification proceedings so far, and that it was time that the Speaker decided the petitions. Further, he observed that although the May 11 Judgement did not fix a particular time schedule, the speaker had to “abide by the dignity of the Supreme Court”.
The Bench referred to an order issued by Narwekar on 14 September 2023, which stated that the “procedural directions” would be issued in “due course” for the disqualification proceedings. CJI Chandrachud stated, “He [Narwekar] cannot say ‘in due course’. He has to take up the matter immediately”. Interestingly, this order was issued four days before this hearing.
The top Court granted Speaker Narwekar one week to list the disqualification petitions and fix a time schedule to begin proceedings.
The case is listed to be heard after two weeks.
(this report relied on other news sources)