The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the suspension of the 12 BJP MLAs by the Maharashtra Assembly, on July 5, 2021, for one year was “grossly irrational” and also violated basic democratic values.
A bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and C.T. Ravikumar said: “Suspension beyond the remainder period of the ongoing Session would not only be grossly irrational measure, but also violative of basic democratic values owing to unessential deprivation of the member concerned and more importantly, the constituency would remain unrepresented in the Assembly.”
Justice Khanwilkar, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said it would also impact the democratic setup as a whole by permitting the thin majority government (coalition government) of the day to manipulate the numbers of the opposition party in the House in an undemocratic manner.
In a 90-page judgment, he said: “Not only that, the Opposition will not be able to effectively participate in the discussion/debate in the House owing to the constant fear of its members being suspended for longer period.”
The bench added that there would be no purposeful or meaningful debates but one in terrorem and as per the whims of the majority. “That would not be healthy for democracy as a whole,” it said.
The top court emphasised that a representative of a constituency cannot be kept away from the House in the guise of suspension beyond the necessary (rational) period linked to the ongoing Legislative Assembly session, including the timeline referred to in Article 190(4) of the Constitution and Section 151A of the 1951 Act.
“Suspension beyond the Session would be bordering on punishing not only the member concerned, but also inevitably impact the legitimate rights of the constituency from where the member had been elected,” said the bench.
The top court said suspension for a long period and beyond the session of the House has the effect of creating a de facto vacancy though not a de jure vacancy. “The argument of the state that despite suspension from the House, the members would continue to discharge all other functions outside the House as an elected representative. This plea, in our view, is tenuous,” said the top court.
It had earlier said that one year suspension is worse than “expulsion”, “disqualification” or “resignation” – insofar as the right of the constituency to be represented before the House/Assembly is concerned.
A battery of senior advocates — Mahesh Jethmalani, Mukul Rohatgi, Neeraj Kishan Kaul, and Siddharth Bhatnagar — argued for the suspended legislators and were assisted by advocates Siddharth Dharmadhikari and Abhikalp Pratap Singh.
On January 19, the top court reserved the verdict on petitions challenging the one-year suspension of the 12 BJP MLAs — Ashish Shelar, Girish Mahajan, Atul Bhatkalkar, Jaykumar Rawal, Yogesh Sagar, Narayan Kuch, Abhimanyu Pawar, Sanjay Kute, Ram Satpute, Parag Alvani, Kirtikumar Bhangadiya and Harish Pimpale.