New Delhi [India], September 18 (ANI): The Supreme Court on Monday expressed disapproval over the delay by the Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly in deciding the disqualification petitions against 56 MLAs including Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and asked him to set a timeline for the hearing them within a week.
A bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said it had been asking the Speaker, Rahul Narwekar, to decide on the matter for four months.
The Speaker cannot delay the proceedings under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution indefinitely and there has to be a sense of respect to the directions passed by the top court," the apex court said.
"Order of this court requires the Speaker to decide proceedings within a reasonable period of time. We expect deference and dignity to the directions issued exercised using Constitutional power. We now direct procedural directions shall be issued by the Speaker within a week setting out a timeline to complete the proceedings. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta shall inform the court about what is the timeline being set for disposing of the proceedings," the bench said.
During the hearing, CJI said that the Speaker has to dispose of the disqualification petitions pending before him. "You can't say that I will hear it in due course. You have to keep giving dates. It appears nothing has happened (since May)," the bench observed.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Speaker, said that he was being ridiculed despite being a Constitutional functionary.
The top court noted that a total of 34 petitions filed by both groups of Shiv Sena against each other seeking the disqualification of 56 MLAs are pending before the Speaker.
The apex court was hearing a plea filed in July by Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena seeking direction to the Speaker to take an expeditious decision on the disqualification petitions pending against rebel Sena MLAs led by Eknath Shinde. The plea was filed by MLA Sunil Prabhu of Uddhav Thackeray's group of Shiv Sena.
Speaker in brazen disregard to his constitutional duties as a neutral arbiter, has sought to delay the adjudications of the disqualification petitions, thereby, permitting the illegal continuance of Eknath Shinde as Chief Minister, against whom the disqualification petitions are pending for almost a year, the plea has said.
Speaker's conduct in choosing to deliberately delay the adjudication of the disqualification petitions filed by the Uddhav Thackeray group against the delinquent members of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, it has added.
The disqualification pleas have been pending since the Maharashtra political crises started. The plea sought direction for the Speaker to decide disqualification petitions within a time-bound manner.
Sunil Prabhu in his plea contended that in the present case, the delinquent MLAs against whom disqualification petitions are pending have committed"brazenly unconstitutional acts" which per se invite disqualification under Paras 2(1)(a), 2(1)(b), and 2(2) of the Tenth Schedule.
The Speaker's inaction in deciding the disqualification proceedings is an "act of grave constitutional impropriety" as his inaction is allowing MLAs who are liable to be disqualified to continue in the assembly and to hold responsible positions in the government of Maharashtra including that of the ChiefMinister, the plea added.
"It is settled law that the Speaker while performing its functions under Para 6 of the Tenth Schedule, acts as a judicial tribunal, and is required to act in a fair and unbiased manner. The constitutional requirement of fairness enjoins upon the Speaker the obligation to decide the question of disqualification in an expeditious manner. Any unreasonable delay on the part of the Speaker in deciding the petitions for disqualification contributes to and perpetuates the constitutional sin of defection committed by the delinquent members," the petition stated.
Prabhu said though the Supreme Court in its May 11 judgment asked the Speaker to decide pending disqualification petitions within a reasonable period, the Speaker has taken no steps in that regard. He said he has already submitted three representations on this score to the Speaker, but to no avail.
The disqualification petitions against the rebel MLAs were filed by Sunil Prabhu, the Shiv Sena party Whip appointed by Uddhav Thackeray, on June 23, 2022 after the MLAs revolted against Thackeray. The notices of disqualification were issued by Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal in the absence of the Speaker.
On May 11, a five-judge Constitution bench had held that it cannot disqualify the Eknath Shinde-led Maharashtra government and reinstate Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minster because the latter had chosen to resign instead of facing a test of strength in the Assembly.
In August last year, the top court's three-judge bench had referred to a five-judge Constitution bench the issues involved in the petition filed by rival groups of Shiv Sena in relation to the Maharashtra political crisis.
On June 29, 2022, the top court gave a go-ahead to the floor test in the Maharashtra Assembly on June 30. It had refused to stay the Maharashtra Governor's direction to the then Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to prove his majority support on the floor of the House on June 30.
After the apex court's order, Uddhav Thackeray announced his resignation as the Chief Minister and Eknath Shinde was later sworn in as the Chief Minister. (ANI)