The Supreme Court has set October 30 deadline for Maharashtra assembly speaker Rahul Narwekar to furnish a time schedule for concluding the proceedings on cross petitions by rival Shiv Sena factions and the NCP-Sharad Pawar group seeking disqualification of over 80 MLAs and warned that the court would frame the schedule, if he failed to do so.
When solicitor general Tushar Mehta said he would sit with the speaker and draw a realistic timeframe by October 30 for completing proceedings, a bench of CJI DY Chandrachud, Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra expressed their deep dissatisfaction over the manner in which the speaker was conducting himself as head of the tribunal, despite the court directions for expeditious disposal of the disqualification petitions to keep provisions of the anti-defection law meaningful.
“The speaker has to decide the petitions. And he goes and gives interviews: we are a co-equal branch of government.. the SC is supreme in its own way etc. He is giving interviews instead of doing his job. He is amenable to the jurisdiction of this court because we are not concerned with what is happening on the floor of the House. What happens on the floor of the House, there the House is absolutely supreme. But while hearing a disqualification petition, he is a tribunal amenable to the jurisdiction of the SC,” the CJI said.
When the court asked what had the speaker done since the Constitution bench delivered its verdict in May this year, the SG said if the SC wanted it, the speaker would give a day-to-day account of what proceedings were conducted by him.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Uddhav Thackeray faction of Shiv Sena and Sharad Pawar faction of NCP, told the court that while no step had been taken on the disqualification petitions relating to the Sena MLAs since July last year, notice had not even been issued on NCP petitions, filed in July-September seeking disqualification of MLAs loyal to Ajit Pawar.
The CJI-led bench said, “The Speaker has to take a decision. Since May 11, he has done nothing. He can always rotate a matter by saying someone had sought an adjournment and someone had sought time for a counter.”
“What we want is he must set down a time frame to come to a final decision. Petitions filed by the Uddhav Thackeray faction and NCP should be a simultaneous process. These are summary proceedings where evidence and affidavits would be required. The speaker’s inquiry is a limited inquiry,” the CJI said. It was protested by senior advocates CA Sundaram, Maninder Singh and NK Kaul, who said the procedure and rules under the anti-defection law, as in force in Maharashtra, provides for furnishing evidence.
The SG said the SC was being given a wrong impression that matters were being unnecessarily rolled forward and reiterated his offer to furnish day-to-day accounts of proceedings before the speaker. The bench said, “The disqualification petitions have to be adjudicated upon expeditiously, otherwise the very purpose of the tenth schedule will be defeated.”
“We are not satisfied with the time schedule, which has been indicated (by the speaker) before this court previously, since adhering to the time scheduled as set up could not result in immediate foreseeable conclusion of the disqualification proceedings. Solicitor general Tushar Mehta has apprised the court that he would personally engage with the speaker next week to set up modalities to ensure conclusion of the hearing of the election petitions. Before this court issues peremptory directions setting out the time schedule for compliance, we are of the view that a final opportunity should be granted to the speaker to furnish a realistic time schedule for disposal of the disqualification petitions,” the bench said and listed the matters for hearing on October 30.