Maharashtra Political Crisis Day #3: Bench Reserves Judgment On 7-Judge Bench Reference

Disqualification Proceedings Against Maharashtra MLAs

Today, the 5-Judge Constitution Bench finished hearing arguments on whether the case should be referred to a larger 7-Judge Bench. The Shinde faction argued that the facts of the case did not justify referring it to a 7-Judge Bench. The Thackaray faction argued that the Shinde faction changed their stance once the question of reference was raised.

Shinde Faction: Petitioners Concerns Are Unfounded, Case Should Not Be Referred

Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, representing the Shinde faction, argued that the Speakers’ powers were not curbed by the decision in Nabam Rebia v Deputy Speaker (2016). The SC, in June 2022, merely gave the rebel MLAs from the Shinde faction extra time to reply to the Speaker’s notice initiating disqualification proceedings against them. Further, former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackaray resigned before any of the rebel MLAs could cast any votes in the house. Hence, none of the facts justify referring the case to a larger Bench.

Sr. Adv. Maninder Singh appeared next for the Shinde faction. He argued that the Speaker cannot preside over disqualification proceedings against a House member from the moment a notice for the Speaker’s removal is issued.  If a member is disqualified by a Speaker who is on their way out, there could be grave consequences. The member will lose their seat and another election will have to be conducted in their constituency.

Sr. Adv. Sidharth Bhatnagar was the final Advocate to appear for the Shinde faction. He argued that the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules do not allow repeated motions for the Speakers’ removal. Hence, the petitioners’ concerns over the misuse of the provision are unfounded.

Thackeray Faction: Rebel MLAs Relied On Nabam Rebia Decision Before Distancing Themselves From The Case

Sr. Adv. Kapil Sibal, for the Uddhav Thackeray faction, appeared next. He argued that there was a difference between ‘removal’ and ‘disqualification’ of the Speaker.

Removal is governed by Articles 179 and 181 of the Constitution and disqualification is governed by the 10th Schedule. Removal also carries a stigma. To counter this, the Constitution only bars the Speaker from ‘presiding’ over the house and allows the Speaker to participate even while facing removal. 

Mr. Sibal then addressed the argument that the facts of the case were unrelated to Nabam Rebia. He said the rebel MLAs themselves heavily relied on Nabam Rebia even before they approached the SC. The rebel MLAs attempted to ‘paralyse’ the Speaker. In the notice for the Speakers’ removal the MLAs stated that their disqualification proceedings cannot be considered until the issue of Speaker’s removal was first decided. This clearly relies on the Nabam Rebia case according to Mr. Sibal ‘There are not conscientious objectors. These are conscientious defectors. They lay their conscience on a platter and it depends on who bids the highest.’

Finally, Sr. Adv. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, also representing the Thackaray faction, gave his response. Pointing to specific instances, he said the rebel MLAs repeatedly relied on Nabam Rebia in their writ petition and submissions. How can they now claim that it does not apply in this case?

Further, he claimed there is major ‘suppression’ in this case. The issue of the Speaker rejecting the notice for their removal was only mentioned during oral arguments. It was not mentioned a single time in the rebel MLAs’ petition, nor when they approached the Court in June 2022.

The Bench concluded the hearings and reserved Judgment on the limited issue of the 7-Judge Bench reference.