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SC asks Maha speaker to decide plea for disqualification of MLAs by Jan 10

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NEW DELHI, Dec 15: The Supreme Court on Friday extended the deadline for Maharashtra legislative assembly speaker Rahul Narwekar to decide the cross-petitions filed by the rival factions of the Shiv Sena seeking disqualification of each other’s MLAs from December 31 to January 10 next year .

The top court, which granted 10 more days to the speaker, had earlier asked him to decide the disqualification pleas by December 31, saying the sanctity of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution (disqualification law) should be maintained.

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“The speaker has indicated that the proceedings will be closed on December 20 and the speaker has sought a reasonable extension of time for declaration of the order. Bearing in mind the time limit, which was set out by this court in its previous order dated October 30, was until December 31. We grant extension of time for pronouncement of orders till January 10,” a bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said.

At the start of the brief hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the speaker, sought extension of the deadline by three more weeks, saying around 2.71 lakh pages of documents have been filed before him and he has to examine them before passing orders.

He said no further extension will be sought in the matter as the speaker is all set to reserve his orders on December 20 and needs time for delivering the same.

“The speaker has said that on 20 December the judgement would be reserved and no further time would be taken. Hearings took place even during the assembly session. There are 2.71 lakh pages … I am seeking an extension of time by three weeks for pronouncing the order. We won’t ask for more,” the law officer said.

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The prayer for extension was objected to by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi, who appeared for the Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray faction.

The solicitor general persisted with the request and said this is a quasi judicial function and the speaker needs time.

The top court, while fixing the previous deadline, had said procedural wranglings should not be permitted to delay a decision on the disqualification petitions.

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.

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“We are concerned that the sanctity of the 10th Schedule must be maintained. Otherwise, we are throwing these provisions to the wind,” the court had said.

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 chief minister Eknath Shinde and Shiv Sena MLAs loyal to him had come under strict scrutiny by the apex court which came 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.

The top court was 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 disqualification proceedings against some MLAS.

Earlier on September 18, the bench had directed the speaker to spell out the time table for adjudication of the disqualification petitions against Shinde and Shiv Sena MLAs owing allegiance to him. They had split the Shiv Sena and tied up with the BJP to form a new government in June 2022.

The court had asked the solicitor general to apprise the bench of the time schedule to be fixed by the speaker for deciding the pleas for disqualification of 56 MLAs, including lawmakers belonging to the Shinde faction.

The Thackeray faction had moved the apex court in July seeking a direction to the speaker to expeditiously 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 is 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. (PTI)

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