DC Edit | Judiciary-legislature divide: SC order raises questions

It is a plain fact that the ruling front and the rebel Sena faction are engaged in a political game which will be decided by its own rules

The Supreme Court order on Monday extending the deadline for the rebel MLAs of the Shiv Sena to reply to the notice of disqualification issued by the deputy speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly gives MLAs a much-needed reprieve. It also underscores the need for a controlled pace at which such processes are undertaken by the authorities concerned, at the same time, raising the question as to the extent to which constitutional courts can intervene in the functioning of the legislature.

Deputy speaker Narhari Zirwal had on June 25 issued notices to 16 Sena rebel MLAs, including their leader and senior minister Eknath Shinde, seeking their explanation by June 27 as to why they should not be disqualified from the membership of the Assembly for violating party discipline. The notice was issued under the Members of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly (Disqualification on Ground of Defection) Rules, 1986, on a petition by the chief whip of the party.

The court’s intervention can be welcomed on the ground that the deputy speaker’s decision to initiate the disqualification process — he had given the rebels hardly three days to respond to the notice with a rider that failing to meet the deadline would be construed as their action being indefensible — displays a haste which does not fit into the democratic scheme of things. Disqualification of a person elected by the people must follow a measured, just and fair process and cannot be triggered by extraneous considerations.

The court refused to issue directions to the legislature and its presiding officer on the way it should conduct their business. That is welcome but the court should ideally stop at this point: the issue of the no-confidence motion pending against the deputy speaker should not be a factor for the court as it’s the business of the legislature.

It is a plain fact that the ruling front and the rebel Sena faction are engaged in a political game which will be decided by its own rules; the larger common good or the constitutional niceties have very little role to play in this drama. Still, the people who are mandated to uphold constitutional principles are required to do so, and the courts will be called in if they refused to do so. It only serves the cause of justice and democracy if the members who face action are given sufficient time to explain their position and the processes are completed as per the rules. A show of haste would send the wrong signals, and the Supreme Court also referred to it when it said, “at time times, undue haste gives unavoidable inferences”.

It is in the interest of the people of Maharashtra that the stalemate ends at the earliest but that gives the governor no authority to cast doubts on the functioning of the government of the day by calling for the files on the decisions it had taken on certain days. A council of ministers is collectively accountable only to the House of the people and unless the House decides otherwise, its decisions have the authority of the law. The governor must desist from sitting in judgment on them.

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