SC Order : Yearlong MLA Suspension is illegal – UPSC GS2

Context: The Supreme Court revoked the one-year suspension of 12 MLAs from the Maharashtra Assembly, calling it an “irrational” act that would impact the democratic set-up.
  • The 12 Maharashtra legislators were suspended for a year for “grossly disorderly conduct” in the House during the monsoon session in 2021.
  • The suspended MLAs filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and the State of Maharashtra and asked for the suspension to be quashed.
Related Provisions:
  • Rule 53 of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules: Rule 53 states that the “Speaker may direct any member who refuses to obey his decision, or whose conduct is, in his opinion, grossly disorderly, to withdraw immediately from the Assembly”. The member must “absent himself during the remainder of the day’s meeting”.
  • Article 212 (1): Courts not to inquire into 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”.
Arguments on behalf of the Suspended MLAs:
  • The suspension is “grossly arbitrary and disproportionate”.
  • The suspension is a violation of laid-down procedure and is a denial of the principles of natural justice.
  • The suspension violated their fundamental right to equality before the law under Article 14 as they were not given an opportunity to present their case.
  • The MLAs have also contended that under Rule 53 of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules, the power to suspend can only be exercised by the Speaker, and it cannot be put to vote in a resolution as was done in this case.
Arguments by Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and the state:
  • The action was taken due to the “undisciplined and unbecoming behaviour” of the MLAs.
  • The state had 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.
  • It was argued that the House had acted within its legislative competence and that under Article 212, courts do not have jurisdiction to inquire into the proceedings of the legislature.
SC Judgement:
  • On Procedure of Suspension:
    • The court agreed with the MLAs’ contention that the suspension had to follow the procedure laid down in Rule 53.
    • 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.
  • On Duration of Suspension:
    • 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 an irrational suspension.
    • Withdrawal of a member can only be done in case of the member’s conduct being “grossly disorderly”.
    • 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.
  • On Judicial Review of Legislative procedures:
    • Court ruled that procedures are open to judicial review on the touchstone of being unconstitutional, grossly illegal, irrational or arbitrary.
How the suspension beyond the ongoing session would impact the democratic setup?
  • As per SC suspension beyond the ongoing session would mean the constituency the member represents in the House would remain unrepresented.
  • A thin majority coalition government could use such suspensions to manipulate the number of Opposition party members.
  • In such cases, the Opposition will not be able to effectively participate in discussions/debates in the House fearing the suspension of its members for a longer period.
  • Thus, it is violative of basic democratic values and would also impact the democratic setup.

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