SC had asked Parliament to review such powers in cases of disqualification of members.

 

New Delhi: More than six months later, there is no movement yet on the Supreme Court’s directions in which it had asked the Parliament to relook the vast powers of the Speaker of the Assembly and Parliament while deciding the issue of disqualification of members.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice R.F. Nariman, while delivering its judgment in a case on 21 January, had stated that to give real teeth to the provisions contained in the Tenth schedule (which deals with defections of MLAs and MPs), the Parliament should appoint a permanent tribunal to decide on the legality of the members who join other parties after winning the election, rather than letting just the Speaker decide the issue.

“It is time that Parliament have a rethink on whether disqualification petitions ought to be entrusted to a Speaker as a quasi-judicial authority when such Speaker continues to belong to a particular political party either de jure or de facto. Parliament may seriously consider amending the Constitution to substitute the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies as arbiter of disputes concerning disqualification which arise under the Tenth Schedule with a permanent Tribunal headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court, or some other outside independent mechanism to ensure that such disputes are decided both swiftly and impartially, thus giving real teeth to the provisions contained in the Tenth Schedule, which are so vital in the proper functioning of our democracy,” Justice Nariman, along with Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice V. Ramasubramanian, had said.

Exactly two months after this judgment, the then Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath had to resign from his post after 22 of his party MLAs earlier resigned from the party and joined the BJP. The BJP, which had lost the elections in November 2018, was thus able to come back to power less than18 months later due to the resignation of the Congress MLAs. All these former Congress MLAs were later given the membership of BJP and most of them were later appointed as ministers in the Cabinet or chairman of corporations and commissions under the new Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Justice Nariman was giving his judgment while addressing the issue of the role played by Speakers while deciding on the pleas for disqualification of lawmakers who jump ship.

A Manipur based Congress leader, Keisham Meghachandra Singh, had moved the SC, seeking disqualification of BJP lawmaker and Manipur Forest Minister Shyamkumar who had won the Assembly polls in 2017 as a Congress candidate, but later joined the BJP government. The plea of his disqualification was pending with the Speaker ever since. Singh had approached the Supreme Court against an order of the Manipur High Court order in which it had refused to direct the speaker to decide the plea for disqualification of Shyamkumar.

The polls for 60 seats of the Manipur Legislative Assembly were conducted in March 2017 in which the Congress emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats and BJP came second with 21 seats. However, a BJP-led government was sworn in and Shyamkumar, a Congress MLA, switched sides and became a minister in the state government, leading to filing of several pleas in April 2017 with the Speaker seeking his disqualification under the anti-defection law.