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SC keeps disqualification of rebel Sena MLAs in abeyance

Supreme Court says it will hear the matter next on July 11
Supreme Court.
Supreme Court.
File photo

R. Balaji   |   New Delhi   |   Published 28.06.22, 03:16 AM

The Supreme Court on Monday kept in abeyance the disqualification proceedings against 16 rebel Sena MLAs, sought the deputy Speaker’s response to their plea questioning his authority to issue disqualification notices, and said it would hear the matter next on July 11.

In an interim order, the apex court said the June 27 deadline set by the deputy Speaker for the rebels to respond to the disqualification notices would stand extended till 5.30pm on July 12.

The bench of Justices Surya Kant and J.B. Pardiwala also recorded a statement from the Maharashtra government counsel that no harm would be caused to the life or properties of 39 rebel Sena MLAs and their families.

The court refused to pass any interim order on the Maharashtra government’s plea that there should not be any floor test in the Assembly, and said the government could always approach it in case of any illegality, PTI reported.

Rebel leader Eknath Shinde and another MLA have challenged the competence of deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal to issue disqualification notices when a no-confidence notice is pending against him.

The Maharashtra Assembly currently has no Speaker. The rebels have sought Zirwal’s removal on the ground that he is biased.

The court issued notices to Zirwal, Sena legislature party leader Ajay Chaudhary, Sena chief whip Sunil Prabhu, the state government and the Centre on the rebels’ petition.

It asked the deputy Speaker to put on affidavit records of the no-trust notice served on him by the rebel MLAs, PTI reported.

“The counter affidavits (by Zirwal and others), if any, be filed within five days. Rejoinder (from Sena rebels) there to be filed within three days thereafter. List the matter for hearing on July 11,” the court order said.

Earlier, during nearly two hours of hearing, senior counsel Devdatt Kamat, appearing for the Sena, had said that no court had ever granted a stay on a disqualification process since such an order interdicted House proceedings.

Kamat cited the Tenth Schedule to say disqualification proceedings should be deemed to be proceedings of the Assembly and therefore not amenable to judicial review.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Sena leaders Prabhu and Chaudhary, argued that apex court rulings in Nabam Rebia vs Arunachal Assembly and the earlier Kihoto Hollohan case had said courts cannot interfere with the Speaker’s authority.

Senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for the rebels, said the Nabam Rebia judgment said the Speaker or deputy Speaker could not decide on a disqualification plea if their own continuance was under challenge.

He said the MLAs faced a threat to their lives.

When the bench asked why the rebels hadn’t approached Bombay High Court first, Kaul said that threats from Sena leaders to the dissidents and their families made it non-conducive for them to pursue cases in Mumbai.

He said the apex court had in several instances dealt with similar matters from other states.

When the court asked whether the rebels could appear before the deputy Speaker in the Assembly and argue against his adjudicatory powers, instead of pursuing the matter in court, Kaul said Zirwal had gone ahead with the notices despite being informed.

Senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan accepted the notice on behalf of Zirwal while Singhvi accepted notices on behalf of Chaudhary and Prabhu. Solicitor-general Tushar Mehta accepted the notice on behalf of the Centre.

Dhavan orally assured the court on behalf of the deputy Speaker that no decision on disqualification would be taken in the interim.

Justice Kant asked: “Should we record the statement?”

Kaul requested that the statement be recorded.

Singhvi objected, saying that the court generally did not record a statement made on behalf of the Speaker, as that would amount to a breach of the division between the judiciary and the legislature.

Singhvi cited media reports that said the rebels had sent their no-trust notice from an unverified email, and the deputy Speaker had rejected the notice – a decision that had remained unchallenged, PTI added.

Ministers sacked

Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Monday stripped the nine rebel Sena ministers of their portfolios and handed charge of the departments to other ministers.

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