SC grants interim relief to Eknath Shinde group; extends time of disqualification notice till July 12

The Court was hearing two separate petitions filed by Eknath Shinde group

New Delhi: In the Maharashtra political crisis, the Supreme Court on Monday granted interim relief to Eknath Shinde and his rebel group of MLAs by extending the time to file response to the disqualification notice sent by the Deputy Speaker, till July 12, as per Bar & Bench reports.

The deadline, which was set to expire at 5.30 pm today, was extended by a vacation bench of Justices Surya Kant and JB Pardiwala which is hearing the petitions filed by the Shinde group challenging the disqualification notices issued by the Deputy Speaker to 16 rebel MLAs as well as appointment of Ajay Choudhari as Shiv Sena Legislature Party leader.

“As an interim measure, the time granted by Deputy Speaker, to the petitioners or other similarly placed MLAs to submit their submissions today by 5.30 pm, stands extended till July 12,” the apex court ordered.

The Court also sought the response of Deputy Speaker of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and the State of Maharashtra to the petition and posted the case for further hearing on July 11. “Counter affidavit to be filed within 5 days, rejoinder three days thereafter. List it on July 11,” the Court ordered.

The Court also recorded the submission of Maharashtra counsel that no harm will be caused to the life and property of the rebel MLAs.

“Chitnis (counsel for Maharashtra) states that adequate steps have already been taken and the state government will further ensure that no harm is caused to the life, liberty, property of the MLAs,” the Court said in its order.

During the hearing the Bench also remarked that the issue before the Court is whether the Deputy Speaker can decide on disqualification petitions against the MLAs when there is a notice by the MLAs seeking removal of the Deputy Speaker himself.

“The issue is limited. Whether the deputy speaker has right to hear the disqualification petition under Tenth Schedule when there is a notice seeking his removal under Article 179 of the Constitution,” Justice Kant said.

Maharashtra has been embroiled in political turmoil after Shinde along with rebel MLAs left the State and have been camping in Assam’s Guwahati for the past few days. The Shinde group has expressed its displeasure with the alliance by Shiv Sena with the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party.

It has claimed that it stands for the cause propounded by founder Balasaheb Thackeray and has named itself ‘Shiv Sena (Balasaheb)’. While one of the petitions was filed by Shinde, the other was filed by the remaining 15 MLAs led by MLA Bharat Gogawale.

The petitioners sought the following reliefs: Stay on the Deputy Speaker’s notice on the disqualification petition filed against Shinde and 15 others; Direction to the Deputy Speaker to not take any decision on the disqualification petition, till the resolution of removal of Deputy Speaker is decided; and

Quashing the order of the Deputy Speaker recognizing Choudhari as Shiv Sena Legislature Party leader.  Directions to the Centre and Maharashtra Director General of Police to provide security for the family of the dissident MLAs.

The Shinde group challenged the disqualification notice summoning the 16 MLAs to appear on June 27, 2022 on the following grounds:

As there is a no-confidence motion pending seeking removal of Deputy Speaker and as per the 2016 judgment in the case of Nabam Rebia and Bamang Felix v Deputy Speaker Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly & Ors the deputy speaker is ineligible to decide any disqualification petition till the pending motion is decided.

The plea also sought security for the family of the petitioner and supporters of the dissident MLAs after the Maha Vikas Aghadi government allegedly withdrew security to the families of the MLAs.

“Not only the security of our families and relatives have been compromised by removing the security personnel but also there is an ongoing agenda wherein various leaders of the MVA government are instigating the cadres of their respective parties to take up violence to further intimidate us,” the plea alleged.

The petition also challenged the order of the Deputy Speaker recognizing Ajay Choudhari as Shiv Sena Legislature Party leader on the ground that Choudhari has been declared as SSLP despite him belonging to the minority faction of Shiv Sena.

Instead, Gogawale who had been selected as Legislature Party leader by Shinde’s majority faction ought to have been considered, it was contended. Senior Counsel Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for the 15 MLAs, said that the Deputy Speaker cannot decide on the disqualification petitions against MLAs till the no-confidence motion against the Deputy Speaker is decided.

The bench asked why the petitioners have approached the apex court instead of moving the High Court first.

Mr. Kaul replied, “Article 226 existence is a matter of discretion, but there is no bar on the Supreme Court to entertain plea. A minority of the legislative party is taking a decision. Our houses are being burnt.”

“We do not have means to verify the statements on the houses burning and etc. The second reasoning is there is lack of time given to you respond to the disqualification notice,” the bench remarked.

It then proceeded to ask Kaul about the timeline regarding the notice sent by the MLAs for disqualification of the speaker. “June 21,” Kaul said.

“The majority of the legislative party appointed Eknath Shinde as the Chief. Then the minority faction which has 19 MLAs now made Ajay Choudhari, their Chief in a quiet meeting. They inform the Deputy Speaker, and then Choudhari is declared (leader of Shiv Sena Legislature Party). The majority faction wrote to the deputy speaker about their decision. Then the rebel MLAs get a notice to report to a meeting, by the minority MLAs. When the MLAs do not attend, based on the notice issued on same day, a disqualification is filed, Kaul further explained.

He emphasized that the deputy speaker cannot proceed while there is no-confidence motion pending against him.

“Why cannot you raise this before the Deputy Speaker itself,” the bench asked.

Senior Counsel Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Shiv Sena Legislature Party leader Ajay Choudhari, said that the judgment of a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Kihoto Hollohan v. Zachilhu has clearly laid down that courts cannot interfere until the speaker makes a decision.

“There is not one single case in India, barring Rajasthan case, where milords have interdicted. The judgment in Kihoto Hollohan is clear on that. The judgment states clearly that the court will not intervene till the Speaker has decided,” Dr. Singhvi said.

“We remember a case of 1992,” said Justice Kant. The bench also added that there is a petition against the Dy. Speaker here, which was not the case in sited reference.

That issue has been decided only in Nabam Rabia and not before that,” Singhvi responded. Counsel Rajeev Dhavan appeared for Dy Speaker and Devdatta Kamat for the State of Maharashtra.

#Eknath Shinde, #Supreme Court, #Dy. Speaker, Rajeev Dhavan, #Kamat

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