New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday January 11 orally observed that suspension of 12 BJP MLAs from Maharashtra Assembly in July, for a year, for misbehaving with the presiding officer in the chair, both inside and outside the Assembly, was “worse than expulsion”.
A bench, headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar was hearing a petition filed by MLAs challenging their suspension. On December 14, last year, the top court had issued notice to the Maharashtra Assembly through its Secretary.
The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Rajkumar, expressed an inclination to interfere with the resolution passed by the Assembly suspending the BJP MLAs, on July 5, last year.
During the hearing, the bench orally observed that the suspension for one year was “worse than expulsion” as the constituency would remain unrepresented in the House. It added that one-year suspension will amount to a punishment on the constituency of these elected representatives. Citing constitutional provisions, the bench said a constituency cannot go unrepresented for beyond six months.
Citing relevant rules, the top court pointed out that the Assembly lacks power to suspend a member beyond 60 days. It referred to Article 190(4) of the Constitution which says a seat will be deemed to have become vacant if a member remains absent in the House without its permission for a period of 60 days.
A battery of senior advocates — Mahesh Jethmalani, Mukul Rohatgi, Neeraj Kishan Kaul, and Siddharth Bhatnagar – argued for the suspended legislators. They were assisted by advocates Siddharth Dharmadhikari and Abhikalp Pratap Singh.
Jethmalani argued that Rajya Sabha recently suspended 12 members for disorderly behaviour, and the suspension was operated only for the duration of the session. It was argued in the top court that the principle of natural justice was violated by the House by suspending MLAs for a year. One of the lawyers argued that the suspension cannot exceed 6 months and it allows the government to manipulate the strength in the House to secure majority votes on important matters.
The 12 suspended members are 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 MLAs have termed their suspension as politically motivated to whittle down the number of the opposition party
The bench noted that after MLAs’ suspension, there is nobody to represent the respective constituencies in the House. “This is not punishing the member but punishing the constituency as a whole,” it said.
The top court did not entertain an argument made by senior advocate C.A. Sundaram, representing the Maharashtra government, that the court cannot examine the quantum of punishment imposed by an Assembly. After a detailed hearing in the matter, the bench posted the matter for further hearing on January 18.
The plea said: “The impugned resolution has been passed in abject violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India in as much as no opportunity of hearing or at least furnishing their written explanation was given to the petitioners. Further, a perusal of the impugned resolution shows that there has been utter non-application of mind in as much there was no material available for identifying the 12 MLAs from a large crowd of people.” It urged the top court to pass a direction to quash the resolution for the suspension of the MLAs.