New Delhi: The Supreme Court stated its reluctance to revoke the Speaker’s authority to decide disqualification petitions against members of a House, while the Uddhav Thackeray-led faction urged the court to hear petitions to disqualify Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde and 38 other legislators of the rival faction.
A constitution panel led by Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud deemed it problematic for the court to decide disqualification cases by substituting the Speaker’s mandate with a judicial exercise.
“There are just two options: either you debunk the authority of the Speaker, or regardless of what the lesser mortals decide, you eventually appreciate the office of institutions in a democracy.” If we begin to denigrate constitutional offices, including that of the Speaker, there will be no end to it,” the bench, which included justices MR Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli, and PS Narasimha, remarked.
The court pointed out that the institutional mechanism empowering the speaker to decide disqualification petitions against members of a House was put in place through a legislative process and that the court judgements have only limited effect. The court was hearing a slew of petitions arising from the Shiv Sena’s vertical split last year and the legal issues surrounding the contours of disqualification proceedings and the powers of the governor and the speaker in their respective spheres.
“Is this court inclined to invalidate the entire procedure and the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection provision) simply because one or two Speakers have strayed? It presents a difficult situation for the court. If the Speaker is on your side, you will assert that this is a constitutional authority and that the court cannot instruct the Speaker. When you’re having trouble, you’ll remark, “Look at how the Speaker is acting,” the bench said.
It noted that as long as the sequence of Supreme Court rulings uphold the speaker’s preeminence in deciding disqualification petitions, the constitution bench will adhere to it. “We shall adhere to the premise that the Speaker decides petitions under the Tenth Schedule. A bench stated emphatically, “This decision is final, and we will not reconsider it.”
The court’s reluctance to rule on the disqualification petitions filed against Shinde and the MLAs in his camp by the Thackeray faction last year came to light when senior counsel Kapil Sibal, representing the former chief minister, argued that the new Speaker cannot be trusted to rule on the disqualification petitions impartially.
Sibal, aided by attorney Amit Anand Tiwari, lamented that not only was the election of BJP MLA Rahul Narwekar as new speaker of the assembly with the Shinde camp’s support illegal, but that Narwekar cannot be expected to adjudicate the petitions fairly after he recognised the Shiv Sena whip and leader from the Shinde-group. He inquired, “How can this court have the confidence of such a Speaker?”
But the bench countered, “You shown the same confidence when you stated that the Speaker should have been let to decide when the other side filed a petition. The constitutional ability of the Speaker to determine is independent of the Speaker’s identity and decisions.
Sibal emphasised once more that Narwekar illegally appointed the whip and leader of the party, but the bench retorted, “Then you had the first Speaker, who in violation of the parliamentary procedures gave the opposite side two days’ notice to respond.”
The panel lamented that problems regarding the impartiality of a Speaker are frequently addressed before the supreme court, but that there appears to be a lack of equivalent zeal for a parliamentary process to bring about the required adjustments.
How many times have MPs raised the issue of amending the Constitution? How often have talks in the Parliament been held to examine the operation of the office of the Speaker? How many times have parties sat down and agreed that the system is not operating properly and must be altered? Yet, each time this is brought up before this court, which is not the proper venue for deciding such matters,” the statement continued. Wednesday, the court will resume hearing the case.
The constitution bench is seized of a number of petitions filed by Shinde and Thackeray factions concerning disqualification proceedings against the MLAs of both camps, the election of Narwekar as new Speaker, the recognition of a new party whip for Shiv Sena, and the governor’s directive to Thackeray for proving majority on the floor of the House and then inviting Shinde to form the new government in the state.
While the Shinde faction filed the first two petitions in the Supreme Court to prevent the deputy speaker (there was no speaker at the time) from disqualifying them as MLAs, the Thackeray camp later challenged the actions of the governor in directing the former CM to demonstrate the majority on the floor of the House and in inviting Shinde to form the government in the state. The Thackeray camp disputed Narwekar’s decision to recognise Shinde as the leader of the Shiv Sena and to designate a new party whip.