Supreme Court quashes one-year suspension of 12 Maharashtra BJP MLAs

Court says Such a suspension would leave constituencies unrepresented and help majority govts manipulate numbers

January 28, 2022 11:40 am | Updated 11:48 pm IST - New Delhi

BJP workers protest against Maharashtra Government after suspension of 12 BJP MLAs. File image.

BJP workers protest against Maharashtra Government after suspension of 12 BJP MLAs. File image.

The Supreme Court on Friday revoked the one-year suspension of 12 Maharashtra BJP legislators, calling it an “irrational” act that would impact the democratic set-up, leave constituencies unrepresented and help “thin majority” governments manipulate numbers.

The MLAs were suspended for a year for “grossly disorderly conduct” in the House.

A Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and C.T. Ravikumar quashed the resolution of July 5 last year as “unconstitutional” and traversing beyond the powers of the Assembly.

The court said it was illegal to suspend a sitting legislator beyond the ongoing session.

The suspension happened during the monsoon session in 2021.

“A suspension beyond the remainder period of the ongoing session would not only be grossly irrational measure, but also violative of the basic democratic values owing to unessential deprivation of the member concerned, and more importantly, the constituency would remain unrepresented in the Assembly. It would also impact the democratic set-up as a whole by permitting the thin majority government [coalition government] of the day to manipulate the numbers of the Opposition party in the House in an undemocratic manner,” Justice Khanwilkar observed.

‘A disciplinary measure’

The court held that the such suspensions would cripple the Opposition’s ability to effectively participate in the discussion/debate in the House owing to the constant fear of its members being suspended for longer period. “There would be no purposeful or meaningful debates but one in terrorem and as per the whims of the majority. That would not be healthy for the democracy as a whole,” it observed. It explained that suspension was essentially a disciplinary measure.

Justice Khanwilkar said, “Suspension for a period of one year would assume the character of punitive and punishment worse than expulsion. Suspension for long period and beyond the session has the effect of creating a de facto vacancy though not a de jure vacancy”.

Suspension of members or their withdrawal was meant to protect the House from disturbances or obstruction. The power of suspension was different from the privilege to inflict punishment on a member, he stated.

The law required the Speaker to adopt a “graded approach”, based on objective and rational standards to ensure that the House functioned smoothly.

‘Worse than disqualification’

The Bench had orally agreed during the hearing that prolonged supension was worse than disqualification from the House

The 12 MLAs had filed petitions challenging the House resolution. They were suspended after the government accused them of “misbehaving” with presiding officer Bhaskar Jadhav in the Speaker’s chamber. The suspended members were Sanjay Kute, Ashish Shelar, Abhimanyu Pawar, Girish Mahajan, Atul Bhatkhalkar, Parag Alavani, Harish Pimpale, Yogesh Sagar, Jay Kumar Rawat, Narayan Kuche, Ram Satpute and Bunty Bhangdia.

The court said the resolution passed in July last was not just a case of mere procedural irregularity, but a “unconstitutional, grossly illegal and irrational resolution”.

Again, the court said, there was a gross violation of the principles of natural justice by not allowing the suspended MLAs an opportunity to be heard. It declared that the 12 legislators were entitled to all the benefits of members of the Assembly.

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