SC rues practice of delay by Speakers in deciding disqualification pleas



NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Monday rued the “general practice” of Speakers delaying decisions on pleas seeking disqualification of lawmakers and the subsequent arguments that courts should “stay away”, while hoping that the West Bengal Assembly Speaker would decide on such a plea against Mukul Roy who defected to TMC from BJP after the state polls.

The apex court’s observations came while hearing two separate appeals filed by West Bengal Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee and its Secretary and the Returning Officer against the Calcutta High Court’s order.

The high court asked Banerjee to take a decision on the petition for disqualification of Roy as a member of the House by October 7.

A bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hima Kohli on Monday expressed hope that the Speaker will take a decision on the disqualification plea against Roy on the claim that he has defected to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) after being elected on a BJP ticket and fixed the pleas for hearing in January next year.

“There is a general practice of speakers delaying the hearing and decisions on disqualification petitions under the Tenth Schedule of the constitution, there are so many cases where there is a delay by the Speaker. But, we are told that you stay away and let the Speaker decide,” the bench said.

Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Banerjee, said the courts need to interfere in cases where there are “egregious delays” but the instant case does not warrant such an interference as several adjournments have been sought by BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari in the matter.

Singhvi referred to another case in which a plea was moved by DMK seeking a direction to then Tamil Nadu Speaker to decide the plea for disqualification of 11 AIADMK lawmakers who had voted against the then Chief Minister K Palaniswami during the 2017 confidence vote.

The term of the Assembly expired but the issue could not be decided, he said.

The apex court, which did not issue notice on the appeals, took note of Singhvi’s submissions that the disqualification plea is scheduled for hearing on December 21 before the Speaker.

“The petition for disqualification filed under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution is now listed on December 21. We hope the Speaker proceeds with the hearing of the matter and decide the matter in accordance with law,” the bench said and fixed the case for hearing in January next year.

Adhikari, leader of the Opposition, on June 17 had filed the petition before the Speaker seeking Roy’s disqualification.

Ambika Roy, BJP MLA of the state, had moved the high court in July challenging Roy’s election as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and prayed for nomination of an opposition member to the post as per tradition.

At the outset, Singhvi assailed the high court’s decision saying that it did not leave anything to be decided by the Speaker who is supposed to hear both the sides and moreover, the courts cannot “micro-manage the calendar of the speaker”.

“If we were to micro-manage by now there would be an order. We are just trying to cull out of you the status of proceedings,” the bench said.

Singhvi said the high court adjourned the hearing on October 7 after being apprised that an appeal has been filed in the apex court.

Singhvi said the high court has already held that the appointment of Roy as head of the PAC was part of the assembly proceedings.

“Good, bad or indifferent, the Speaker is the persona designata,” he argued.

But there should not be a delay in deciding such a plea, the bench said.

Earlier, the high court had said in its order that the issue pertaining to disqualification of Roy as a member of the Assembly is correlated with him being the chairman of the PAC.

It had said a petition filed for Roy’s disqualification is pending before the Speaker for more than three months, the maximum period fixed in a judgement of the Supreme Court, for decision thereof.

“Before we proceed further in the matter let the respondent No.1 (the Speaker) place before us the order passed in the petition filed for disqualification of respondent No.2 (Mukul Roy) as Member of the Legislative Assembly,” the high court had said in its order.

The bench adjourned the matter to October 7 for further hearing, stating, “In case of failure this Court will decide further course of action to be taken in the matter.”

However, the counsel for the Speaker, on October 7, told the high court that an appeal has been filed in the apex court against its direction leading to the adjournment of the proceedings.

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