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SC gives Maharashtra Speaker a week to open disqualification proceedings against CM Shinde and other

The Supreme Court, on September 18, instructed Maharashtra Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar to initiate disqualification proceedings against Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and other MLAs accused of defection within a week. This directive comes after four months since the Constitution Bench entrusted the Speaker with this task on May 11, with little progress observed during this time.

The court had anticipated the Maharashtra Speaker to demonstrate "deference and dignity" towards its direction to decide the disqualification petitions in a "reasonable time."

In the recent order, the court directed the Speaker to schedule the disqualification petitions within a week, ensure the case records are prepared, and establish a timeline for the hearing and announcement of his decision.

"The Supreme Court's order necessitates the Speaker to resolve the disqualification petitions within a reasonable timeframe. While recognizing the importance of maintaining harmony between the Speaker, who leads the Legislative Assembly, we also expect him to respect the directions issued by the Supreme Court through its constitutional authority of judicial review," stated a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud in the order.

The court has set a two-week deadline for the next hearing. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Speaker, has been directed to present the proposed schedule to the court.

On May 11, a five-judge Bench had instructed the Maharashtra Speaker, acting as a tribunal under the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection law) of the Constitution, to promptly hear and decide the disqualification petitions.

In his petition, Sunil Prabhu, a loyalist of Uddhav Thackeray, represented by senior advocate Kapil Sibal and advocates Amit Anand Tiwari and Nishant Patil, pointed out that the Supreme Court had placed its trust in Mr. Narwekar to fairly adjudicate the anti-defection proceedings against Mr. Shinde's group.

"The Speaker is the appropriate authority to adjudicate petitions for disqualification under the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection law)... The Speaker embodies propriety and impartiality, and it was therefore inappropriate to express distrust in the office of the Speaker," the May 11 judgment had noted.

"Four months have passed since the judgment. It has become a complete farce. There is a serious problem... We gave the Speaker representations on three occasions after May 11 — on May 15, May 23, and June 2. Till date only notice has been issued in the disqualification proceedings," Mr. Sibal said.

Currently, 56 MLAs face disqualification under the Tenth Schedule, with 34 disqualification petitions awaiting Speaker Narwekar's attention.

Mr. Sibal highlighted that the Speaker conducted a hearing on September 14, knowing that the case was scheduled before the Supreme Court on September 18. In the September 14 order, the Speaker mentioned that the hearing would take place again "in due course."

The senior lawyer reminded the Supreme Court of Justice (retired) Rohinton F. Nariman's January 2020 judgment in the Keisham Meghachandra Singh case, which had given Speakers three months to decide disqualification petitions. Justice Nariman had deemed three months as a reasonable, if not sufficient, timeframe.

"He cannot say 'in due course.' He has to take up the matter immediately… What did the Speaker do after our direction on May 11? The Speaker is a tribunal under the Tenth Schedule. As a tribunal, he is amenable to our judicial review… As a tribunal, he has to abide by our orders passed after judicial review… Four months have passed, and he is still in the stage of issuing notices?" Chief Justice Chandrachud asked Mr. Mehta.