In a notable judgment, the Supreme Court held that Speaker of the Legislative Assembly should decide on a petition seeking disqualification of a member under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution within a period of three months, in the absence of exceptional reasons.
Highlighting the importance of taking a decision within a reasonable time, the SC said :
“The Speaker, while acting as a Tribunal under the Tenth Schedule, is bound to decide disqualification petitions within a reasonable period.
What is reasonable will depend on the facts of each case, but in the absence of exceptional circumstances for which there is good reason, a period of three months from the date on which the petition is filed is the outer limit within which disqualification petitions filed before the Speaker must be decided if the constitutional objective of disqualifying persons who have infracted the Tenth Schedule is to be adhered to.
This period has been fixed keeping in mind the fact that ordinarily the life of the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assembly of the States is 5 years and the fact that persons who have incurred such disqualification do not deserve to be MPs/MLAs even for a single day”
This was held by a bench comprising Justices R F Nariman, Aniruddha Bose and V Ramasubramanian in a case relating to alleged defection in Manipur assembly.
The bench also acknowledged the problem of Speakers acting in a partisan manner due to their political loyalties. The bench also noted that this apprehension was voiced by the minority judgment in the case Kihoto Hollohan v Zachillhu & Ors. Therefore, the bench suggested that the Parliament should amend the Constitution to provide for an independent mechanism, such as a Permanent Tribunal headed by retired judges, to decide disputes under Tenth Schedule.
“It is time that Parliament have a rethink on whether disqualification petitions ought to be entrusted to a Speaker as a quasi-judicial authority when such Speaker continues to belong to a particular political party either de jure or de facto. Parliament may seriously consider amending the Constitution to substitute the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies as arbiter of disputes concerning disqualification which arise under the Tenth Schedule with a permanent Tribunal headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court, or some other outside independent mechanism to ensure that such disputes are decided both swiftly and impartially, thus giving real teeth to the provisions contained in the Tenth Schedule, which are so vital in the proper functioning of our democracy”
The judgment authored by Justice Nariman observed :
“It is clear from a reading of the judgment in Rajendra Singh Rana (supra) and, in particular, the underlined portions of paragraphs 40 and 41 that the very question referred by the Two Judge Bench in S.A. Sampath Kumar (supra) has clearly been answered stating that a failure to exercise jurisdiction vested in a Speaker cannot be covered by the shield contained in paragraph 6 of the Tenth Schedule, and 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.”
In the facts of the case, the Court directed the Speaker to take a decision on the pending disqualification petitions within a period of four weeks from the date when the judgment is intimated to him.
The Court declined to decide the disqualification issue observing that the same should be first decided by the Speaker.