No Action on Maharashtra Disqualification Pleas Till New Bench Constituted: SC

The Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena had filed a plea, challenging the election of a new speaker in the Assembly.

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The Supreme Court on Monday, 11 July urged the solicitor general to direct the Maharashtra Assembly speaker to not take any decision yet regarding the disqualification of MLAs amid the ongoing political tussle within the Shiv Sena.

The apex court added that the matter will require the constitution of a new bench and will not be listed tomorrow.

The court's direction came in response to the Thackeray faction's plea, challenging the election of a new speaker in the Assembly.

Meanwhile, appearing for the Thackeray camp, senior advocate Kapil Sibal sought for urgent hearings.

Maharashtra Political Crisis Cases Not Listed

The court did not listed the matters relating to the Maharashtra political crisis on Monday, despite the vacation benches, which took up those matters over the last two weeks, saying that they would be.

The 'cause lists' specifying which cases will be heard by the various benches of the court on Monday did not include any of the cases.

The apex court has been on its summer vacation since 23 May and only resumed full operation on 11 July.

There are five cases filed in the apex court which deal with the Maharashtra political crisis, that led to Uddhav Thackeray's resignation as chief minister, and the installation of a new government headed by Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde as CM and the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis as deputy CM:

  • The challenge by Eknath Shinde and 15 of his (at the time) rebel Shiv Sena MLAs to the disqualification proceedings initiated against them by Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal. They argued that Zirwal could not look into disqualifying them under the anti-defection law as they had first sent him notice of a motion to remove him from his post.

  • The challenge by (at the time) rebel Shiv Sena MLA Bharat Gogawale to the decision of Deputy Speaker Zirwal to recognise the appointment of Uddhav Thackeray-loyalist Sunil Prabhu as chief whip of the Shiv Sena.

  • The challenges by Uddhav Thackeray's camp to (a) the governor's decision to order a floor test on 30 June; (b) the decision of new Maharashtra Assembly Speaker Rahul Narvekar to recognise Gogawale as the new chief whip of the Shiv Sena; and (c) the governor's decision to appoint Eknath Shinde as the new CM and subsequent proceegings in the Assembly. They also requested suspension of Shinde and the other rebels till the court disposes of the matter.


What Has Happened in the Cases Till Now?

The first two matters had seen arguments before a vacation bench of Justices Surya Kant and JB Pardiwala on 27 June. Senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, arguing for the Shinde camp, contended that the deputy speaker was prohibited from considering the disqualifications of the rebels till the motion for his removal had been dealt with, thanks to the Supreme Court's Nabam Rebia judgment of 2016.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the deputy speaker, informed the court that the communication to Zirwal about the notice for his removal had not been through proper channels and that the deputy speaker had written back, rejecting the notice as it could not be authenticated.

Uddhav Thackeray's faction of the Shiv Sena was represented by Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who argued that the court could not interfere in the decision-making process of the deputy speaker till after the latter had made a decision either way, and that allowing this kind of interpretation of the Nabam Rebia judgment would undermine the anti-defection law.

The vacation bench held that there were factual and legal issues to be ascertained here, and said in their order that the pleas would be listed on 11 July. The rebels were also given till 5:30 pm on 12 July to respond to the disqualification notices sent to them, effectively preventing the deputy speaker from making any decision till then.

On 29 June, the vacation bench refused a plea by the Uddhav Thackeray faction to stay the order by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari for a floor test the next day, saying that this floor test would be subject to the final decision of the court in the first two cases. (If the deputy speaker were allowed to disqualify the rebels, they wouldn't be able to vote either way in the floor test)

The court held that the matter would be taken up on 11 July along with the other connected matters.

On 4 July, Dr Singhvi mentioned the plea by the Thackeray camp against the speaker's recognition of Gogawale as the new chief whip before the apex court. The vacation bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari said it would also be taken up on 11 July with the other connected matters.

Finally, on 8 July, the plea by Subhash Desai, general secretary of the Shiv Sena, challenging the decision to invite Eknath Shinde to form the government, was mentioned before the court. The vacation bench once again specifically ordered that the matter be listed on 11 July with the other connected matters.

The case status for each of these matters on the Supreme Court's website still says that they are tentatively to be listed on 11 July, but none of them find mention in the Supreme Court's cause lists (Main and Supplementary) published on their website on Sunday, 10 July. All the matters had been on the Advance cause list for 11 July.

The outcome of this whole batch of cases is the last remaining way for Uddhav Thackeray to try and assert his control over the Shiv Sena and try to salvage the Maha Vikas Aghadi, though it is difficult to really see any chance of success for the unlikely coalition.

Perhaps more importantly in the long term, this batch of cases involves significant constitutional issues and legal questions which could play a big role in ensuring the relevance of the anti-defection law, and could prove to be crucial to the survival of non-BJP state governments across the country.

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