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The Court today pulled up the Assembly Speaker today for not deciding on the disqualification applications filed against the MLAs in 2018, adding that he had "utterly failed" to act fairly and responsibly in the matter.
The Manipur High Court on Monday barred 7 BJP MLAs from entering the Manipur Legislative Assembly on account of the Speaker's failure to decide on disqualification applications filed against them back in November 2018 (Khumukcham Joykishan Singh and ors. v. The Hon’ble Speaker, MLA and ors).
The MLAs so restrained today are Sanasam Bira Singh, Gisuanhau, Oinam Lukhoi Singh, Ngamthang Haokip, Yengkhom Surchandra Singh, Kshetrimayum Bira Singh and Paonam Brojen Singh.
Applications for disqualifying them were filed after they switched sides from Congress Party on which ticket they had contested the 2017 State Assembly elections.
The March 2017 Manipur Legislative Assembly elections produced an inconclusive result, as none of the political parties were able to secure a majority. The 7 MLAs crossed over to the BJP as part of a post-poll alliance, and the party eventually formed the Government.
Pulling up the Assembly Speaker today for not deciding on the disqualification applications filed against these MLAs back in November 2018, despite the Supreme Court's recent directions to do so, the Manipur High Court observed,
Justice KH Nobin Singh further emphasized that the controversy and the "undesirable" High Court interference, in this case, would not have arisen at all if the Speaker had decided on the petitions before him within a reasonable time.
After applications to disqualify the 7 MLAs were made before the Speaker Y Khemchand Singh in November 2018, notices were issued in July the following year. However, since then no further action was taken.
Last January, the Supreme Court directed the Speaker to decide on the pending disqualification applications before him within four weeks in the case of Keisham Meghachandra Singh v. The Hon’ble Speaker, Manipur Legislative Assembly and ors.
This ruling came from the apex Court in a petition for the disqualification of Thounaojam Shyamkumar Singh (then a Minister for Forest and Environment in the Manipur government) who had also defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) post the 2017 Assembly elections held in the state.
When the Speaker dragged his feet on the matter further, the Supreme Court itself stepped in.
In its March 18 order, the top court invoked its inherent powers under Article 141 of the Constitution and barred Shyamkumar Singh from entering the Legislative Assembly, ruling that "he will cease to be a Minister of the Cabinet immediately."
"It is an undeniable fact that the Hon’ble Speaker has failed to decide the petitions filed by the petitioners before him within a reasonable time", the Manipur High Court said today while passing a similar verdict against 7 more BJP MLAs, adding that the circumstances in this present case were identical to the Meghachandra Singh case.
The High Court ruled that it also has powers to interfere under Article 226 of the Constitution where the Speaker fails to decide on applications for disqualification within a reasonable period of time.
Referring to the case of Rajendra Singh Rana v Swamy Prasad Maurya, Justice Nobin Singh recalled that the Supreme Court had ruled that "when a Speaker refrains from deciding a petition within a reasonable time, there was clearly an error which attracted jurisdiction of the High Court in exercise of the power of judicial review."
The Court proceeded to find that such interference was warranted in the case against the 7 BJP MLAs, given that disqualification petitions filed against them in November 2018 had not been disposed of by the Speaker till date.
This despite the Supreme Court's directions for the reasonably time-bound disposal of the same in the Meghachandra case, the High Court noted, adding that,
The Court also emphasised that it was important that disqualification petitions are decided as soon as possible to avoid loss to the public exchequer if the MLA concerned is found liable to be disqualified.
The Court added that with less than 2 years left for the end of term of the present Manipur Legislative Assembly, if the speaker failed to decide on the petitions at the earliest possible time, the term of the Manipur Legislative Assembly may come to an end earlier than the disposal of the petitions.
Before parting with the matter, Justice Nobin Singh added that he has not made any observations on the merits of the matter, clarifying further that the Speaker is not prevented from deciding on the disqualification petitions before him.
Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal, SG Hasnain and N Ibotimbi appeared for the petitioners in the case. Senior Advocate HS Paonam and Advocate Kh Tarunkumar appeared for the respondents.