By G Krishna Mohan Rao*
New Delhi: The Maharashtra political crisis took a new turn as the Supreme Court today gave relief to rebel Shiv Sena MLAs by ruling against their disqualification till July 12, 2022. In other words, the top court extended the deadline given to the rebel MLAs and allowed them to file their response by July 12. The Court was hearing a petition filed by Eknath Shinde, the leader of the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs camping in Guwahati for the last one week. Earlier, the rebel MLAs had to submit a reply by 5.30 pm today.
A vacation bench of justices Surya Kant and J P Pardiwala, in its order, said “ As an interim measure, the time granted by the Deputy Speaker, to the petitioners or other similarly placed MLAs to submit their submissions today by 5.30 pm, stands extended till July 12. The petitioners or other MLAs are at liberty to submit their reply without prejudice to their rights in the writ petition “.
The Supreme Court has now posted the matter for hearing on July 11. It may be recalled that Eknath Shinde, the leader of the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs is at the centre of political controversy in Maharashtra as he has been camping with his fellow MLAs in Guwahati. His petition challenges the disqualification notices issued by the Maharashtra Deputy Speaker to the rebel MLAs and also the appointment of Ajay Choudhari as the Shiv Sena Legislature Party leader.
Further, the bench also issued notices to the Deputy Speaker, Secretary of Maharashtra State Legislative Assembly, the Centre, Ajay Chaudhary, and Sunil Prabhu and asked them to file a reply within five days. On the request of providing security to 39 MLAs alleging threats to them, the Supreme Court recorded the statement of the standing council of the Maharashtra government, Rahul Chitnis, that adequate steps have already been taken and the state government will further ensure that no harm is caused to the life, liberty, property of the MLAs.
During the hearing, senior advocate Neeraj Kaul appearing for Eknath Shinde and others told the Supreme Court that the Deputy Speaker cannot proceed with the disqualification proceedings when the resolution seeking his removal is pending. Maharashtra government’s standing counsel also questioned the MLAs why they had not approached the Bombay High Court with the pleas.
To this, Neeraj Kaul responded that in any number of cases like floor test, or disqualification, the Supreme Court had passed the order and also “ a minority of the legislative party” is subverting the state machinery, attacking MLAs’ houses. They are saying that our dead bodies will be returned from Assam, the atmosphere is not conducive for us to exercise our rights in Mumbai, Kaul added.
Threats have been given to these MLAs and it was said that bodies of 40 MLAs will arrive back in Mumbai, he added. Kaul further argued that the Deputy Speaker has no authority to deal with the issue till the question of his removal is decided. What is sought to be done in this matter is undue haste, violation of principles of natural justice, he added.
The Bench also remarked that the issue before the Court is whether the Deputy Speaker can decide on disqualification petitions against the MLAs when there is a notice by the MLAs seeking the removal of the Deputy Speaker himself. Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Uddhav Thackeray group, contended that article 212 of the Constitution bars the court’s scrutiny when the Speaker is deciding the issue. All internal management is barred from judicial scrutiny, Singhvi said.
Reacting to the Supreme Court order on his plea, the Shiv Sena rebel leader, Eknath Shinde said it is a “victory of Balasaheb Thackeray’s Hindutva “ and added that the rebellion is in the Shiv Sena’s interest.
Meanwhile, the Eknath Shinde-led rebel MLAs have decided to extend their stay in Guwahati till July 5, 2022.