New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday issued directions to the Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, Rahul Narvekar, to expedite the hearing and decision on the disqualification petitions filed by the rival factions of the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) over the political crisis that erupted in the state last year.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud observed that the sanctity of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, which deals with the anti-defection law, should be maintained and that the Speaker should not delay the proceedings on account of procedural complexities. The bench also comprised Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Mishra.
The court ordered that the Speaker should decide by December 31, 2023, on the cross-petitions filed by the Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde groups of the Shiv Sena, who have sought each other’s disqualification from the membership of the House. The court also granted time till January 31, 2024, for the Speaker to decide on the petition filed by the Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP against nine MLAs of the Ajit Pawar group, who had defected to support the BJP-led government in November 2019.
The bench expressed its displeasure when Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Speaker, informed it that he needed time till February 29, 2024, to complete the hearing and decision on the Shiv Sena cases. Mehta cited the Diwali holidays and the winter session of the Assembly as reasons for seeking more time. He requested the court to list the matter in January and monitor the progress.
However, the court was not convinced and said, “We don’t want these proceedings to linger on till the elections are announced.” The court also noted that its judgment directing the Speaker to decide on the disqualification petitions was delivered in May this year and that the incidents leading to the petitions took place in July 2022.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Mukul Rohatgi, representing the Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar factions respectively, also made submissions before the court. Sibal complained that the Speaker had rejected their convenience compilations and had asked them to prove each document. He also said that they wanted to lead evidence that Uddhav Thackeray was not elected properly as the leader of Shiv Sena in 2018. Rohatgi opposed setting a time limit for deciding on the NCP cases and said that they were filed in July and September this year.
The court, after hearing all sides, passed an order stating, “We have to give appropriate time. We direct that appropriate orders be passed after completing the hearing by December 31, 2023, in Group A (Shiv Sena) and by January 31, 2024 in Group B (NCP).”
The court had earlier expressed its dissatisfaction with the Speaker for laying down a long schedule for hearing the Shiv Sena cases and had given him a final opportunity to give a realistic time frame. The court had also criticised the Speaker for giving interviews to media outlets saying that he was a co-equal branch of government and not doing his job.
The petitions filed by Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar factions seek disqualification of Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar groups under Article 191(2) of the Constitution read with Paragraphs 2(1)(a) and 2(1)(b) of Schedule X of Constitution for voluntarily giving up the membership of their original parties and joining or supporting another political party.