Disqualification row: Shiv Sena (UBT) moves SC flagging “highly improper” meeting between Speaker, Maha CM

Shiv Sena (UBT) of Uddhav Thackeray has denounced in the Supreme Court the “highly improper” meeting between Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and state Legislative Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar, barely three days before the deadline set by the apex court for the latter to decide cross-petitions filed by rival Sena factions seeking disqualification of several of each other’s MLAs.

According to news reports, Narwekar met Shinde at ‘Varsha’, the chief minister’s official residence on January 7.

The Supreme Court had on December 15, 2023 extended the deadline for Narwekar to decide the disqualification petitions from December 31 to January 10.

“It is respectfully submitted that it is highly improper for the Speaker to meet Eknath Shinde just three days prior to deciding the disqualification petitions, inter alia, filed against Sh. Shinde,” Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sunil Prabhu said in an application filed in a pending petition.

The application, filed on January 8 through advocate Nishanth Patil, said the speaker, as the adjudicating authority under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution (relating to disqualification under the anti-defection law), is required to act in a “fair and impartial manner”.

“The conduct of the Speaker must inspire confidence and justify the constitutional trust reposed in its high office. However, the present act of the Speaker raises questions about the fairness and impartiality of the decision-making process,” Prabhu said in his application.

The application said the act of the speaker in meeting Shinde days before he is expected to announce his decision on the disqualification petitions is in violation of the legal maxim that justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done.

“Therefore, the Petitioner is constrained to file the present application to place on record before this Court these significant recent developments which are important for just adjudication of the present case,” it said.

Newspaper clippings were attached to the application in order to highlight the meeting between Narwekar and Shinde.

While extending the deadline for deciding the disqualification petitions till January 10, the Supreme Court had said the sanctity of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution should be maintained.

The top court had also asked the speaker to decide the NCP’s petition seeking disqualification of nine MLAs of the Ajit Pawar group by January 31, 2024.

The 10th Schedule of the Constitution is designed to prevent defection of elected and nominated members of Parliament and state legislatures from political parties on whose ticket they win, and contains stringent provisions against it under which they can be disqualified.

The delay in deciding the disqualification petitions against Shinde and Shiv Sena MLAs loyal to him had come under strict scrutiny by the apex court which had come down hard on the assembly speaker at previous hearings, saying the proceedings cannot be reduced to a charade and that he cannot “defeat” its orders.

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The top court had passed the order while hearing two petitions filed by the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena and the Sharad Pawar bloc of the NCP, seeking a direction to the speaker to expeditiously decide the disqualification proceedings.

The Thackeray faction had moved the apex court in July 2023, seeking a direction to the speaker to ex0peditiously adjudicate the disqualification petitions in a time-bound manner.

The plea by Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) MLA Sunil Prabhu, who as the chief whip of the undivided Shiv Sena had filed the disqualification petitions against Shinde and other MLAs in 2022, alleged the speaker was deliberately delaying the adjudication despite an apex court verdict asking him to decide them within a “reasonable” time.

Later, a separate plea was filed by the Sharad Pawar faction of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for a direction to the speaker to expeditiously decide the disqualification petitions against deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and party MLAs loyal to him.

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