The Supreme Court of India recently expressed its strong disapproval towards Maharashtra Speaker Rahul Narwekar for the prolonged delays in delivering a verdict on the disqualification of lawmakers. This political turmoil emerged when a group of legislators departed from the Shiv Sena party led by Uddhav Thackeray and joined forces with the dissenting faction under Eknath Shinde’s leadership.
The apex court emphasized that Mr. Narwekar could not persistently defer the decision, especially after being granted an extended period of nearly five months. The court sought clarity on the actions undertaken post its May 11 judgement. In that judgement, the Speaker was instructed to adjudicate on the petitions within a “reasonable time”.
Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, leading the bench, questioned Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented Mr. Narwekar, about the Speaker’s actions after the court’s May 11 directive. The Chief Justice stated, “Mr SG, he has to decide. He can’t do this (keep delaying the decision). What did the Speaker do after the May 11 judgement by (this) court?”
The Supreme Court, visibly exasperated, reiterated its prior directive for the Speaker to “decide the disqualification petitions within a reasonable period”. However, this time, the court was unequivocal in its instruction, asserting, “We direct that (the) Speaker shall hear the matter (of disqualification) no later than a period of one week”.
Furthermore, the court requested Mr. Narwekar to provide a prospective timeline for the hearing. It also underscored that the Speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly must uphold the esteem of the Supreme Court. The matter has been scheduled for a hearing in the Supreme Court in a fortnight.
The court’s stern remarks were prompted by a plea from the Uddhav Thackeray faction, urging the court to compel Mr. Narwekar to expedite his decision on the petitions. Currently, there are 34 petitions filed by both factions, seeking the disqualification of 56 MLAs, including Chief Minister Shinde.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioner, conveyed to the court that the recent petition was necessitated due to the Speaker’s prolonged inaction post the May 11 order. He highlighted that the September 14 hearing on the disqualification petitions was convened only after the court took cognizance of his petition.
Although Mr. Narwekar initiated the hearing on the disqualification petitions the previous week, it was short-lived. The session was adjourned after lawyers from the Shinde faction alleged non-receipt of certain documents. Mr. Sibal labeled these disqualification hearings as a “farce”. Solicitor General Mehta countered Mr. Sibal’s criticism, but the Chief Justice interjected, noting the apparent lack of progress.
In its May 11 verdict, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court declined to intervene in the disqualification petitions. It also confirmed Eknath Shinde’s position as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.
Earlier in the day, Sanjay Raut, a prominent leader of the Thackeray faction (now identified as Shiv Sena UBT), criticized Mr. Narwekar for allegedly supporting an “unconstitutional government” through his delays. Mr. Raut asserted, “Despite a clear directive from the Supreme Court – referring to the May 11 ruling – the Speaker is wasting time when it comes to deciding on disqualification petitions.”
Furthermore, Mr. Raut accused the defected lawmakers of switching allegiances to seek “relief from central probe agencies”. He alleged that these legislators “control certain sugar mills facing financial irregularities and corruption case”.