Setbacks for MVA as the Supreme Court rules against the suspension of 12 BJP MLAs from the Maharashtra Assembly and students protest against conducting offline Board exams

Published : Feb 02, 2022 12:02 IST

BJP workers protest against the suspension of 12 BJP MLAs in Mumbai on July 6, 2021.

BJP workers protest against the suspension of 12 BJP MLAs in Mumbai on July 6, 2021.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the year-old suspension of 12 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs from the State Assembly was illegal. It marked yet another milestone in the 26-month-old feud that the MVA and the Maharashtra unit of the BJP have been engaging in.

The background

On July 5, 2021, Devendra Fadnavis, Leader of the Opposition, objected to Minister Chhagan Bhujbal of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) attempting to table a resolution demanding that the Centre release data on Other Backward Classes (OBCs) to enable reservations for them in local government bodies. Some BJP MLAs entered the well of the house, snatched the acting Speaker’s mace and uprooted mikes. The house was adjourned, but some opposition MLAs entered the Speaker’s chamber and abused and threatened him. A motion was moved by Maharashtra Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anil Parab to suspend 12 MLAs for a year. They, in turn, filed a writ petition against the suspension.

The BJP MLAs’ argument was that their suspension was “grossly arbitrary and disproportionate”. Their plea relied on denial of the principles of natural justice and on the violation of Assembly procedure. They said they had not been given a chance to present their case and the suspension was a violation of their fundamental right to equality before the law under Article 14 of the Constitution. They said they were denied access to video proceedings of the House and contended that it was not possible to single out 12 from the large crowd that had entered the Speaker’s chamber. They also submitted that under Rule 53 of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules, the power to suspend can only be exercised by the Speaker. A suspension cannot be put to vote in a resolution as had been done. Rule 53 says 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 then has to “absent himself during the remainder of the day’s meeting”.

In response, the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and the State submitted that the action was taken due to “undisciplined and unbecoming behaviour”. Their contention was that the House had acted within its legislative competence. The respondents also said that according to Article 212, courts do not have the jurisdiction to inquire into the 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”.

The court said that the 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 irrational. It said that Rule 53 only provided for the withdrawal of a member for the remainder of the day or in case of repeated misconduct in the same session, for the remainder of the session.

The court said that as per Rule 53, a member could be withdrawn only if his conduct was “grossly disorderly”. It termed the one-year suspension as worse than expulsion or disqualification or resignation as far as the rights of the constituency are concerned. The court called it a violation of basic democratic values as it would mean the constituency would remain unrepresented. Coming down heavily on the MVA, the court said that a thin majority coalition government could use such suspensions to manipulate the number of opposition party members and that the opposition will not be able to participate effectively in discussions/debates in the house fearing suspension of its members for a longer period.

When it came to immunity for the legislature from courts, the court ruled that procedures were open to judicial review if there was the chance of them being unconstitutional, grossly illegal, irrational or arbitrary.

The BJP hailed the ruling, saying it was a “vindication” of its stand and “a huge setback” for the ruling MVA coalition. The State said it would consider its course of action.

Students protest against offline Board exams

Meanwhile, the MVA continued to be harried on another front. On January 31, large numbers of students participated in protests across Maharashtra asking for the cancellation of offline board exams for Classes 10 and 12. In Mumbai and Nagpur, the protests turned violent with students pelting stones and damaging private and police vehicles. The police said about 1,000 students gathered outside the Mumbai residence of Varsha Gaikwad, School Education Minister, with many coming from neighbouring districts. The police had to finally resort to a lathi charge.

The call for the protest had been given by one Vikas Fhatak, a social media influencer who also calls himself Hindustani bhau or brother. He specialises in ultra-right-wing nationalism, making abusive videos on Pakistan and other youtubers from that country. On January 29, he had uploaded a video encouraging students to join him in the protest outside the Minister’s house. Apart from provocation and a belief in his brand of politics, it is not clear what interest the 41-year-old Fhatak has in the issue.

Addressing mediapersons, State Home Minister Dilip Walse said: “In the last two days, some videos went viral in which provocation was given to protest in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur. This was a planned protest carried out by some organisations and we will take appropriate action against them. About the issues raised by students, the Education Minister and Chief Minister will look into the matter and will find an appropriate solution.”

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