Mahua Moitra fails to get interim relief from Supreme Court over Lok Sabha ouster

“All issues are kept open and we will examine the jurisdiction of this court and its powers of judicial review in this case,” Justice Sanjiv Khanna, heading the Bench, said

January 03, 2024 03:28 pm | Updated January 04, 2024 01:06 am IST - New Delhi

Trinamool leader Mahua Moitra. File

Trinamool leader Mahua Moitra. File | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on January 3 gave three weeks to the Secretary General, Lok Sabha Secretariat, to respond to a petition filed by Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra against her expulsion as an MP from the Lower House, but did not allow her the immediate interim relief of participating in the House sessions.

“That will be like virtually allowing your writ petition against the expulsion,” Justice Sanjiv Khanna, heading the Bench, addressed senior advocate A.M. Singhvi and advocate Shadan Farasat, who appeared for Ms. Moitra.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Secretary General, urged the court to not issue notice.

“A sovereign organ of the state under the Constitution has decided its internal discipline on evidence after giving her an opportunity… What would be the scope of the judicial review, if any at all? This will go against the very principle of separation of powers,” Mr. Mehta objected.

Mr. Singhvi asked the Supreme Court whether there was no recourse to judicial review by the Supreme Court in the face of “the Parliament being denuded of Opposition MPs… If you expel MPs, it will become a rule of the majority”.

Justice Khanna, along with Justice Dipankar Datta, resolved to hear the petition in the week commencing March 11.

“We will issue notice to the first respondent [Secretary General]. All issues are kept open and we will examine the jurisdiction of this court and its powers of judicial review in this case,” Justice Khanna said.

To Mr. Singhvi’s application for interim relief, Justice Khanna said it was “neither issuing notice on it now nor dismissing it”.

The senior lawyer pointed out that the budgetary session of the Parliament would begin and Ms. Moitra may not be able to participate without some interim relief from the court. He asked the court to fix the hearing in February.

Giving Ms. Moitra three weeks to file a rejoinder on the reply submitted by the Secretary General, Justice Khanna asked “do you think the matter is so simple?”

Making his preliminary submissions during the 20-minute hearing, Mr. Singhvi said his client was expelled “for the one and only reason of sharing her log in details” to the Digital Sansad portal to businessman Darshan Hiranandani to post questions directly.

“Sharing of log in details does not mean giving control of the portal. The portal required the One Time Password to be sent only to the MP concerned. No MP herself operates the portal. Out of necessity, any MP shares log in details with her secretaries, delegates or nominees. There was no code of conduct or rules for authorised or controlled access to the portal. She was expelled without there being a set of rules for sharing the access code,” Mr. Singhvi submitted.

The senior lawyer said giving controlled access to log in details cannot be termed as “hacking”. There was no violation of ethics involved as there was no quid pro quo. “There was no money trail,” Mr. Singhvi said.

He contended that the elementary principles of natural justice was not followed prior to Ms. Moitra’s expulsion. She was not allowed to cross-examine the complainants and Mr. Hiranandani was not summoned as a key witness. The MPs were not allowed enough time to even go through the ethics report.

“She asked him to frame questions which would have a resonance for corporate India,” Mr. Singhvi

“Do you accept that you shared the OTP with Hiranandani?” Justice Datta asked at one point.

“As any MP shares with any number of secretaries, delegates or nominees,” Mr. Singhvi responded.

The Trinamool Congress leader was expelled from the Lok Sabha on December 8 over cash-for-query allegations. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi had moved a resolution which had said her continuance as a Member of Parliament was “untenable” and her conduct was “unbecoming of an MP”.

The Trinamool MP was accused of taking bribes, including expensive gifts, from Dubai-based businessman Darshan Hiranandani in return for asking questions in Parliament.

Ms. Moitra was not allowed to speak on the floor of the House. She termed the expulsion as “hanging by a kangaroo court”.

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