The Supreme Court on Friday sought response from the office of the Maharashtra legislative assembly speaker on a plea seeking a direction to expeditiously adjudicate the disqualification petitions filed against Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and other Shiv Sena MLAs who had tied up with the BJP to form a new government in June 2022.
A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud passed the order while hearing a plea filed by Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) MLA Sunil Prabhu, who as the chief whip of the undivided Shiv Sena had in 2022 filed the disqualification petitions against Shinde and other MLAs.
”We will issue notice returnable in two weeks,” the bench, also comprising Justices P S Narasimha and Manoj Misra, said.
In its petition, Shiv Sena (UBT) has accused Speaker Rahul Narwekar of deliberately delaying the adjudication despite the May 11 verdict of the apex court to dispose them of within reasonable time.
”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 petition, filed through advocates Nishanth Patil and 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. ”The petitioner has also sent more than three subsequent representations dated May 15, 2023, May 23, 2023 and June 2, 2023 to convene a hearing in the said disqualification matters, however, the respondent 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,” it said.
The 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.” The petitioner has sought direction to the speaker to decide the disqualification petitions dated June 23, 2022, June 25, 2022, June 27, 2022, July 3, 2022, and July 5, 2022 filed by him under provisions of the 10th schedule of the Constitution against the MLAs loyal to Shinde, preferably within two weeks.
In his plea, Prabhu has said it is a settled law that the speaker, while performing his functions under the 10th schedule, which deals with the anti-defection law, acts as a judicial tribunal, and is required to function in a fair and unbiased manner.
The petitioner said in the present case, the ”delinquent” MLAs have committed ”brazenly unconstitutional” acts which per se invite disqualification under Paras 2(1)(a), 2(1)(b), and 2(2) of the 10th 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 Chief Minister,” the petition said.
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 relief for Shinde even as it censured the then Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari over his decision calling upon Thackeray to prove his majority in the assembly at the request of the Shinde faction of the Sena. Shinde, who led the rebellion in the Shiv Sena against Thackeray sparking a nine-day political crisis in June last year, later tied up 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.”