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SC bins early hearing on LoP

New Delhi, July 30: The Supreme Court today refused to take up for “early hearing” the row over the leader of Opposition status the Congress has been demanding in the Lok Sabha, saying the matter would come up in the normal course.

“There is no urgency. Let the matter come in the normal course and we will look into it,” a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice R.M. Lodha told petitioner Manohar Lal Sharma.

Sharma, an advocate who filed the public interest petition, had pleaded that the ongoing Parliament session would end in August and the dispute between the Congress and the BJP needed to be resolved to avoid a “constitutional crisis”.

The bench wasn’t impressed. “Don’t bother, we will take care of all such constitutional crises,” it said.

Sharma, on whose PIL the court had ordered the CBI probe into the coal controversy, contended that the rules clearly said the status should be granted to the leader of the single-largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

He, however, didn’t say the Congress — which has only 44 MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha — should be given the post.

Sharma also said the opinion given by attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi was “erroneous”. In his July 25 opinion given to the Lok Sabha Speaker, Rohatgi had said the Congress was not entitled to the status.

The ruling BJP’s case rests largely on the rules framed by G.V. Mavalankar, independent India’s first Lok Sabha Speaker, that said a party must have at least 10 per cent of the strength of the House in order to be eligible for the post.

This works out to 55 in the current House.

The Congress has built its case on a law that was enacted in 1977. The Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977, defines the leader of the Opposition as “a member of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) or the House of the People (Lok Sabha), as the case may be, who is, for the time being, the leader in that House of the party in opposition to the government having the greatest numerical strength and recognised as such by the chairman of the Council of States or the Speaker of the House of the People, as the case may be”.

The Congress also argues that the post has acquired a systemic role because of Supreme Court rulings and amendments that mandate the incumbent to be on search panels to appoint members of high offices like the central vigilance commissioner, Lok Pal and the central information commissioner.

Speaker seeks time

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan has said she will take a decision on the issue of the Leader of Opposition within the next four days after going through the rules and the attorney-general’s letter on the matter.

Mahajan said the Speaker did not enjoy any personal discretion while choosing a member as LoP and was only meant to follow rules and precedents to arrive at a decision.