New Delhi: A 5-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, on Thursday reserved its verdict on the Maharashtra political crisis triggered by split in the Shiv Sena in June last year on whether to refer it to a larger 7-judge Bench in the context of 2016 Nagam Rebia verdict on powers of Assembly speaker to handle disqualification pleas.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for former CM Uddhav Thackeray, wanted a larger Bench to decide since the Rebia verdict was also by a 5-judge Bench.
The Bench sat beyond the break up to 1.45 pm to hear submissions from the senior lawyers appearing from Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and ex-CM Thackeray.
"Heard counel from parties. Arguments addressed on the question of Nabam Rebia being referred to a larger bench. Orders reserved," the CJI said on behalf of the Bench comprising Justices M R Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli and P S Narasimha.
Nabam Rebia case of Arunachal Pradesh
In 2016, a five-judge constitution bench, while deciding the Nabam Rebia case of Arunachal Pradesh, had held that the assembly speaker cannot proceed with a plea for disqualification of MLAs if a prior notice seeking removal of the speaker is pending decision in the House.
The judgement had come to the rescue of the rebel MLAs led by Eknath Shinde, now the chief minister of Maharashtra. The Thackeray faction had sought their disqualification noting that a prior notice seeking removal of the Deputy Speaker was pending in the House.
In the instant case, the Shinde group had sought removal of deputy speaker Narhari Zirwar, having an allegiance to Thackeray group, ahd asserted that he cannot disqualify anybody when a notice for his removal is pending.
'Manipulation in legislature'
Sibal pleaded with the court not to allow toppling of the elected governments the way Shinde group did as it is a fundamental principle of democracy. He said what was done in Maharashtra was manipulation in the legislature, stressing that "it will happen and it has already happened."
He said even if a thumping majority of say 40 out of 50 revolt, they can be disqualified by the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution. Only the merger of the defectors with another party can save them from disqualification.
He and Singhvi ridiculed the Shinde group quoting the Nabam Rebia ruling in their notice against then deputy speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly, but their senior lawyers Harish Salve, N K Kaul and Mahesh Jethmalani now oppose a larger bench to vet the Rebia ruling. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Maharashtra governor, also opposed reference to a 7-judge bench as it will delay the finality.
How Shinde became Maharashtra CM
They argued that Thackeray was asked by the Governor to prove his majority on June 30, but he resigned a day earlier and that led to Shinde becoming the Chief Minister. Sibal said the Shinde group rushed a notice to then deputy speaker to paralyse him.
He ridiculed the lawyers of Shinde group claiming that the issue is only academic, but the fact is that it has elected a new Speaker who cannot be removed now by the Thackeray group.
Sibal also indirectly hinted how then Justice Arun Mishra heard the defection case of Rajasthan against the Congress government almost on daily basis while putting off the Goa case for two years since the Congress MLAs had merged into the BJP to help it form the government.
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