MLAs Suspension, ‘Danger to Democracy’: Supreme Court
Polity & Governance
25th Jan, 2022
12 MLAs from the Maharashtra legislative assembly have gone to the Supreme Court against their 1-year suspension from the state assembly.
- Last year, 12 BJP MLAs allegedly entered the chamber of MLA Bhaskar Jadhav, who was presiding over the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and misbehaved with him.
- The issue was pertaining to the disclosure of the data on the OBCs.
- Subsequently, a resolution was moved for the suspension of 12 MLAs for one year.
- Now, those 12 MLAs had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court for the quashing of the suspension.
Argument laid by the suspended MLAs:
- They consider the suspension as a “grossly arbitrary and disproportionate” one that amounts to:
- Denial of the principles of natural justice
- Violation of laid-down procedure
- Violation of their fundamental right to equality (Article 14): No hearing or furnishing of written explanations by the MLAs, who had committed contempt of the House.
- Against Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules (53): 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.
Rules on the length of suspension of a Member of Parliament: Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha (Rules 373, 374, and 374A): It provides for the withdrawal of a member whose conduct is “grossly disorderly”, and suspension of one who abuses the rules of the House or wilfully obstructs its business.
- Lok Sabha: it is for five consecutive sittings or the remainder of the session, whichever is less.
- Rajya Sabha: under Rules 255 and 256, the maximum suspension does not exceed the remainder of the session.
- State legislative assemblies and councils: Prescribe a maximum suspension not exceeding the remainder of the session.
Suspension of MLAs beyond a session raises questions of rationality:
- There should be some purpose of suspension and the purpose is with regards to the session and should not go beyond that session.
- It deprives the constituency of being unrepresented for more than 6 months.
- Election commission roles get undermined in such a situation as it cannot conduct election in case of suspension of an MLA, wherein the same is possible in the case of a vacancy or expulsion of the MLA.
- The fate of democracy gets endangered: An outer limit on the period for suspending a member of the legislature is essential for democracy as a situation can be perceived in future where a ruling party having a slender majority resorts to such actions to keep the Opposition members out of the House.
Observation and references made by the Supreme Court over the suspension of MLAs:
- Worse than expulsion: As the constituency will remain unrepresented and it is like punishing the whole constituency for no mistake and there is no means to fill the vacancy in such scenario. The Supreme court has described such a situation as worse than the expulsion of the MLAs.
- Referred -Article 190(4) of the Constitution: As per the relevant rules, the Assembly had no power to suspend a member beyond 60 days. SC observed that while the House has the power to suspend a member, it cannot be for more than 59 days. Also, each constituency has an equal amount of right to be represented in the House, and none can represent these constituencies in the absence of the elected MLAs.
Under Article 190(4) of the Constitution, if a member of a House is absent from all meetings without its permission for a period of 60 days, the House may declare the seat vacant.
- Referred -Section 151 A of the Representation of People Act, 1951: A constituency cannot go unrepresented for a period beyond 6 months. In suspension, re-election is ruled out and 151 A is also ruled out. Suspension is more onerous than expulsion. The spirit is that the Constituency cannot be left unrepresented for a long time.
- The suspension of MLAs from the Legislative Assembly for a year is worse than expulsion as the outcomes of the latter are so dreadful and it undermines the right of the concerned constituency to remain represented in the House.
- Such punitive action by the legislature poses a grave threat to the democratic representation of the people of the constituency and results in a constitutional void. Each constituency has an equal amount of right to be represented in the House. The question we are considering is not just dealing with the individual rights of the MLAs or a constituency but concerns representative democracy as a whole.