The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Maharashtra assembly speaker to spell out the timeline within a week for adjudication of the disqualification petitions filed against Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Shiv Sena MLAs loyal to him who had tied up with the BJP to form a new government in June 2022, saying apparently nothing has been done so far despite its direction for deciding the pleas within reasonable time.
This cannot go on indefinitely. Tell us about the time schedule, the bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing Maharashtra assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar.
The top court referred to its May 11 verdict on the Maharashtra political crisis and the direction it had issued to the speaker to decide the disqualification petitions within a reasonable time.
The order of this court requires the speaker to decide the disqualification petitions within a reasonable period. While this court is cognizant of the need to ensure the sense of comity....we would equally expect deference and dignity to the directions issued by us in the exercise of court's constitutional power of judicial review, the bench said.
We now direct that the proceedings shall be listed before the speaker, who is constituted as a tribunal under the 10th schedule of the Constitution, no later than within a period of one week wherein the procedural directions shall be issued for completing the record and setting out the time schedule for the hearing of the disqualification proceedings, it ordered.
The court asked the solicitor general to apprise the bench of the time schedule to be fixed by the speaker for deciding the pleas for disqualification of 56 MLAs including lawmakers belonging to the Shinde faction.
At the outset, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Uddahav Thackeray faction, said the separate plea challenging the Election Commission's decision to grant recognition to the Shinde-led bloc as real Shiv Sena may be heard later.
He, however, sought urgent hearing of the petition seeking a direction to the speaker to decide the disqualification pleas by Thackeray camp and alleged an illegal government was in power in the state.
The solicitor general opposed the submissions, asserting they ridiculed the office of the assembly speaker which was a constitutional office like the court.
We don't like the ridiculing manner in which this is presented. I have to go by the data, the rules. Why they are not circulating documents that is between them. I am an adjudicating authority, the law officer said, seeking to explain the delay.
But, he (speaker) has to decide. He can't do this...What did the speaker do after the May 11 judgement by the court? It appears that nothing has happened, the bench said, adding the office of the speaker is also a tribunal under the Constitution and hence amenable to the court's jurisdiction.
Sibal said the Thackeray faction made three representations on May 15, 23 and June 2 for early adjudication of the disqualification petitions but there was no response from the office of the speaker.
Then we filed a petition on July 4. The notice was issued on July 14. When we approached the speaker, there were 100 replies by each MLA. This is a very serious issue... each of these 100 matters will be tried separately, Sibal said.
The senior lawyer said the speaker called the matters on September 14, apparently after coming to know that the top court has listed the petition for hearing.
The Uddhav Thackeray faction had moved the apex court in July seeking direction to the state assembly speaker to expeditiously adjudicate the disqualification petitions in a time-bound manner.
The plea by Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) MLA Sunil Prabhu, who as the chief whip of the undivided Shiv Sena had filed the disqualification petitions against Shinde and other MLAs in 2022, alleged Speaker Rahul Narwekar is deliberately delaying the adjudication despite the verdict of the apex court.
"The petitioner is constrained to invoke the extraordinary jurisdiction of this court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, in light of the respondent Speaker's conduct in choosing to deliberately delay the adjudication of the disqualification petitions filed by the Petitioner against the delinquent members of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly," the plea filed through advocate Amit Anand Tiwari said.
It said the speaker, despite the categorical direction of the top court in its May 11 judgment that the pending disqualification petitions must be decided within a reasonable period, has chosen to not conduct a single hearing.
Prabhu, in his petition said, "Therefore, it is imperative for this court to direct the Speaker, Maharashtra legislative assembly, to decide the disqualification petitions filed by the petitioner against delinquent members of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly expeditiously, within a time-bound manner."
On May 11, the top court had ruled that Eknath Shinde will continue to be the chief minister of Maharashtra as it cannot reinstate the MVA coalition government headed by Uddhav Thackeray since the Shiv Sena leader chose to resign without facing a floor test in the wake of a rebellion in his party.
The unanimous verdict by a five-judge constitution bench had come as a massive relief for Shinde. The apex court had censured Bhagat Singh Koshyari, who was the Maharashtra governor during the political turmoil, over his decision calling upon Thackeray to prove his majority in the assembly based on a request by the Shinde faction.
Shinde, who led the rebellion against Thackeray, sparking a nine-day political crisis in June last year, later joined hands with the BJP to form a government.
Refusing to disqualify the 16 rebel Shiv Sena MLAs including Shinde, the bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud had said the court cannot ordinarily adjudicate disqualification petitions under the anti-defection law, and directed Speaker Rahul Narwekar to take a decision on the pending matter within a "reasonable period".