NEW DELHI: Strongly suggesting the creation of an independent and permanent body to decide on disqualification petitions against lawmakers since Speakers could act in a partisan manner, the Supreme Court on Tuesday urged Parliament to look into its recommendations.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman sought to prod Parliament to revisit the rationale behind giving exclusive powers to the Speaker for deciding disqualification petitions since his views could be coloured as he is still a member of a political party.
Stressing the need for either a permanent body or some other independent mechanism, the court took note of a clutch of recent cases that sought to question the independence of the Speaker. “Parliament may seriously consider amending the Constitution to substitute the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies as arbiter of disputes concerning disqualification which arise under the Tenth Schedule with a permanent Tribunal headed by a retired Supreme Court judge or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court, or some other outside independent mechanism to ensure that such disputes are decided both swiftly and impartially,” the bench said.
It added that the Speaker cannot sit on a disqualification petition indefinitely. A prompt decision within a reasonable time, is a must, it underlined — preferably within three months. The Supreme Court was hearing a case related to the disqualification of Forest and Environment Minister Thounaojam Shyamkumar in Manipur who won on a Congress ticket in 2017 but later joined the BJP-led government in the state. The plea of his disqualification was still pending with the Speaker.
Two Congress MLAs petitioned the Speaker for his disqualification, but he sat on it. When the MLAs moved the High Court, it passed adverse comments on the Speaker’s lack of action but refrained from deciding on the disqualification for want of jurisdiction under the anti-defection law. The SC bench on Tuesday directed the Speaker to decide on the disqualification petition within four weeks, adding the petitioner MLAs could come back to the court if a decision isn’t taken by then.
Decide within reasonable time
The Speaker, in acting as a Tribunal under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, is bound to decide disqualification petitions within a reasonable period, the judgment read.
Three months outside limit
What is reasonable will depend on the case. Normally, three months is the outer limit within which disqualification petitions must be decided upon.
‘Parliament must rethink’
“It is time that Parliament have a rethink on whether disqualification petitions ought to be entrusted
to a Speaker as a quasi-judicial authority when such Speaker continues to belong to a particular political party either de jure or de facto,” the Supreme Court said.