From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Various articles mentioned in news
Mains level : Suspensions of MLAs in MH Assembly
The Supreme Court has set aside the one-year suspension of 12 MLAs from the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.
What was the case?
- A petition was filed against the suspension.
- It stated the move as “grossly arbitrary and disproportionate”.
- The challenge relied mainly on grounds of denial of the principles of natural justice, and of violation of laid-down procedure.
What did the judgment observe?
- The apex court observed the decision to suspend them for a year was ‘unconstitutional, substantively illegal and irrational’.
What did the court say about members being suspended beyond an ongoing session?
(A) Arbitrary Action
- The court agreed with the MLAs’ contention that the suspension has to follow the procedure laid down in Rule 53.
- It said that the suspension of a member must be preferred as a short term or a temporary, disciplinary measure for restoring order in the Assembly.
- Anything in excess of that would be irrational suspension, the court said.
- It said that Rule 53 only provides for the withdrawal of a member for the remainder of the day or in case of repeat misconduct in the same session, for the remainder of the session.
(B) Defining ‘disorderly behaviour’
- The court said that as per this rule, withdrawal of a member can only be done in case of the member’s conduct being “grossly disorderly”.
- It relied on definitions of the two words and said that the conduct has to be considered in a graded objective manner.
- It is not a punishment like expulsion but more a direction to ensure that the business of the House can be carried on smoothly, without any disruption.
(C) Violative of Fundamental Rights
- The MLAs were not given an opportunity to present their case and that the suspension violated their fundamental right to equality before the law under Article 14 of the Constitution.
- They also submitted that they were not given access to video of the proceedings of the House, and it was not clear how they had been identified in the large crowd that had gathered in the chamber.
(D) Against constitutional ethos
- It termed the one-year suspension worse than expulsion or disqualification or resignation as far as the rights of the constituency to be represented in the House are concerned.
- It would also impact the democratic setup.
(E) Immunity of the state legislature
- It also considered whether the legislature had complete immunity from judicial review in matters of irregularity of procedure.
- It ruled that procedures are open to judicial review on the touchstone of being unconstitutional, grossly illegal, irrational or arbitrary.
Legal basis of the Judgment
Ans. The bench referred to Article 190 (4) of the Constitution
- It says- if for a period of sixty days a member of a House of the Legislature of a State is without permission of the House absent from all meetings thereof, the House may declare his seat vacant.
- Under Section 151 (A) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951, “a bye-election for filling any vacancy shall be held within a period of six months from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy”.
- This means that barring exceptions specified under this section, no constituency can remain without a representative for more than six months.
What was the Assembly’s response to the judicial enquiry?
- It argued that the House had acted within its legislative competence.
- Under Article 212, courts do not have jurisdiction to inquire into the proceedings of the legislature.
- Article 212 (1) states that “the validity of any proceedings in the Legislature of a State shall not be called in question on the ground of any alleged irregularity of procedure”.
- It also said that a seat does not automatically become vacant if the member does not attend the House for 60 days but it becomes vacant only if declared so by the House.
- It was submitted that the House is not obligated to declare such a seat vacant.
Why was this suspension controversial?
- manipulation: A thin majority coalition government could use such suspensions to manipulate the number of Opposition party members.
- Avoiding legislative scrutiny: With prominent members suspended, opposition will not be able to effectively participate in discussions/debates in the House fearing suspension of its members for a longer period.
- Enmity among legislators: The court pointed out that Parliament and Assemblies were becoming more and more an intransigent place.
- A nation aspiring to be a “world leader” should debate on the welfare of its citizens rather than make Parliament/State Assemblies a stage to exchange jeers and launch personal attacks.
- The members must maintain statesmanship and not brinkmanship in the House, said the apex court.
- For becoming world leaders and self-dependent/reliant, quality of debates in the House ought to be of the highest order.
- Parliament or the State legislatures are no places to create a ruckus.
- It is a place where policies and laws are propounded for governing the citizenry.
- Aggression during the debates has no place in the setting of country governed by the Rule of Law.
- Even a complex issue needs to be resolved in a congenial atmosphere by observing collegiality and showing full respect and deference towards each other.