The Supreme Court on October 30 directed Maharashtra Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar to decide disqualification petitions filed under the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection law) of the Constitution against the Chief Minister Eknath Shinde camp in the Shiv Sena dispute by December 31, 2023.
A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud ordered the Speaker, in his capacity as a tribunal under the Tenth Schedule, to decide the disqualification petitions against the breakaway faction headed by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) dispute by January 31, 2024.
“So we are giving the Speaker two months to decide the disqualification petitions in the Shiv Sena case and a month more in the Nationalist Congress Party case. That is fair. It is reasonable time,” Chief Justice Chandrachud addressed the lawyers on both sides.
The Chief Justice said the need to bind the Speaker to deadlines had come after giving him repeated opportunities to conclude the disqualification proceedings.
The court took matters into its hands after the Secretary, Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Secretariat, filed an affidavit that the Speaker could only decide by February 29, 2024.
“We do not want this to creep into the next election schedule… The proceedings cannot wrangle on until the next elections are announced. This has to come to an end within a fixed date,” Chief Justice Chandrachud responded firmly to the affidavit during the hearing.
He noted that a Constitution Bench had directed the Speaker in May to conclude and pronounce the final orders in the Shiv Sena case.
“Our Constitution Bench judgment was in May 2023. The incident [Shiv Sena split] happened in 2022,” Chief Justice Chandrachud pointed out the delay.
There are 34 disqualification petitions pending before the Speaker in the Shiv Sena case and nine in the NCP matter.
More time sought
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta urged the court to give the Speaker time till January 31, 2023, taking into account the intervening Deepavali holidays and the Assembly’s shift to Nagpur for the 15-day Winter Session in December.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and A.M. Singhvi, appearing for the Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar loyalist camps which were part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government overthrown by the Eknath Shinde-BJP alliance in the State, said any ambiguity in the deadline or any further delay would “subvert the anti-defection proceedings”.
Mr. Singhvi said the court ought to take into consideration the past months the Speaker had to decide the case.
Chief Justice Chandrachud made it clear in the order that “procedural wranglings” should not delay the Tenth Schedule hearings in both cases.
In an earlier hearing in October, the court had slammed Mr. Narwekar for reducing the anti-defection proceedings to a “charade”, saying that he cannot “merrily” defer hearings and has to decide before the next elections.
The Speaker had disregarded the court’s order on September 18 to prepare a time-schedule to complete the disqualification proceedings under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution against the Shinde camp. The Bench had at the time given Mr. Narwekar a week to prepare the timeline and file it before the Supreme Court.