Three MLAs from Manipur have approached the Supreme Court challenging a decision of the Manipur High Court which had upheld the Manipur Assembly Speaker's decision to disqualify them for defecting from the Indian National Congress (INC) to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) [Kshetrimayum Biren Singh v. Hon'ble Speaker Manipur Legislative Assembly].
A Bench of Justices UU Lalit and Ajay Rastogi on Wednesday issued notice to the speaker in the matter and listed the case for hearing on September 29.
The Court did not, however, stay the High Court verdict.
The three MLAs, Kshetrimayum Biren Singh, Yengkhom Surchandra Singh and Sanasam Bira Singh challenged the order passed by the High Court on June 2, 2021 by which it upheld the June 2020 decision of the speaker to disqualify the three law makers.
The three MLAs had been elected to the Assembly in 2017 on Congress party ticket.
However, it was alleged that they gave up their membership of the INC and gave his support to the ruling party BJP for the purpose of strengthening the coalition Government led by the BJP.
Disqualification petitions came to be filed against them before the speaker. Their conduct including their participation in various BJP events were shown as proof that they had defected to BJP. The speaker had allowed the petitions on June 18, 2020.
The High Court in its judgment held that the speaker had passed the disqualification order after taking into consideration all the pleadings, newspaper reports, the photographs and DVDs filed in connection with the disqualification cases. The MLAs had not disputed the authenticity of such reports, the High Court further noted.
It, therefore, ruled that the orders of the speaker were in accordance with the provisions of Tenth Schedule of the Constitution of India and do not call for any interference by the High Court in exercise of the power of judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
Senior Counsel Mukul Rohatgi appearing for the petitioners contended that there were procedural and substantive irregularities in the order passed by the speaker.
"But the principles of natural justice have not been followed. The case is built on newspaper reports that I was meeting BJP officials. The High Court said that I have not denied newspaper reports that I met BJP leaders. This is wrong. I will show you the Written Statement. I have not admitted anything," Rohatgi said.
I have completely denied and said that I am still with INC, he added.
The Court proceeded to ask the Additional Advocate General whether the speaker's decision was solely based on newspaper reports.
"Is your decision based solely on newspaper reports? What is your mode of proof, the correspondent, the photographer? Did anyone come up before the speaker by way of an affidavit?" the Bench queried.
"In the newspaper report, they were wearing the apparel of the other party," the AAG replied.
"So, you are essentially saying that it is a general denial and not specific," the Court responded.
"You have gone about as if the presence of the petitioner who was supposed to be the defendant is not even necessary," the Court further opined.
It then proceeded to issue notice but did not stay the judgment but said that it will hear out the matter on September 29.