Jaipur: The showdown between Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy Sachin Pilot began after the former claimed that attempts were being made to topple his government. Subsequently, the state police registered an FIR against two men, which highlighted that Pilot was aiming to be the chief minister.
The police’s Special Operations Group (SOG) sent a notice to Pilot to record his statements in the matter. The next day, he claimed that he had the support of 30 MLAs and seemed to break away from Gehlot. Including Piot, 19 MLAs skipped two Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meetings that were urgently called to assess the support to the ruling Gehlot government.
Following this, the Gehlot government – through its chief whip Mahesh Joshi – submitted a petition to speaker C.P. Joshi, seeking the disqualification of these MLA. The petition listed reasons such as missing the CLP meetings, ‘conspiring’ to topple the elected government in Rajasthan, hostile conduct and remaining inaccessible as grounds for disqualification.
The state assembly secretariat issued notices to all the MLAs, asking them to send their written submissions within three days (by July 17), failing which ex-parte action will be sought against them.
The rebel MLAs who were served this notice moved the Rajasthan high court, primarily stating that their failure to attend meetings of the CLP is not grounds for disqualification.
The Rajasthan HC initially barred the speaker from taking any action against the MLAs until Tuesday (July 21). On Tuesday, the court said it would announce its verdict on Friday, requesting the speaker to defer any action against the rebel MLAs until then.
On Wednesday, speaker Joshi moved a special leave petition (SLP) against the Rajasthan high court’s order passed on Tuesday that restrained him from “calling replies” or “conducting disqualification proceedings” against the 19 rebel Congress MLAs.
Sunil Fernandes, Supreme Court advocate-on-record, will appear for Joshi.
What the SLP says
Since the speaker has not yet decided on the disqualification petition moved by the Gehlot government against the rebel MLAs, and had merely given them notice to submit their responses, the SLP stated that the prayers of these MLAs in their petition before the HC partake the clear character of quia timet (to restrain an action that has not yet commenced), which is “wholly impermissible.”
It further submitted that the notice had nothing adverse against the MLAs and was “only limited to inviting [their] comments”
“Such a notice is not the final determination or decision on disqualification but only a commencement of the proceedings,” the SLP reads.
Citing the seven-judge bench decision of the Supreme Court in Pandit M.S.M. Sharma v. Sri Krishna Sinha, the petition added that a notice calling for a response on disqualification cannot be subjected to judicial review, when the final decision of the speaker on disqualification itself is amenable to judicial review.
“No Court can go into those questions which are within the special jurisdiction of the Legislature itself, which has the power to conduct its own business,” the SC had held in the Pandit M.S.M. Sharma case.
It added that according to the scheme of the Tenth Schedule of the Indian constitution, even after the speaker passes the final order, there are limited grounds for the courts to interfere, such as the principles of natural justice have been violated, the order is malafide, patently perverse or on the basis of alleged irregularity. “None of which applies in the present case as the disqualification petition is at a preliminary stage,” the petition states.
It said that the high court order is a “stay” on the powers of the speaker to adjudicate on a disqualification petition, granted under the Tenth Schedule.
Pointing out that the speaker is the persona designata under the Indian Constitution, having “exclusive, non-transferable, and non-delegable” powers to adjudicate on the matters concerning disqualification, the SLP further submitted that rebel MLAs’ challenge to the constitutional validity of Para 2(1)(a), cannot be a ground for constricting the power of the speaker.
The petition submitted that the HC order be stayed to protect the dignity of the constitutional authorities.
“The impugned order which is in (a)direct contravention Para 6(2) of the Tenth Schedule; and (b) direct contravention to the law laid down by this Hon’ble Court in para 109 and 110 of the Kihoto (supra) is liable to be immediately stayed so that the dignity of Constitutional authorities envisaged by the Constitution is protected,” reads the petition.
The SLP concluded that the Supreme Court has a duty to ensure that all constitutional authorities exercise their powers within the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ (boundaries) envisaged by the constitution.
“Judiciary was never expected under the Tenth Schedule to interfere in the manner it has done in the instant case resulting in this constitutional impasse warranting the instant Special Leave Petition which is being filed with an urgent request to take up the matter at the earliest convenience,” it argues.