The Bombay High Court on Monday dismissed a plea by Prabhakar Tukaram Shinde, BJP corporator and party leader in the BMC, seeking to be recognised as the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the civic body. With this, Congress’ Ravi Raja will remain the LoP in the BMC.
A division bench of Justice S J Kathawalla and Justice Madhav J Jamdar was hearing a plea filed by Shinde that claimed that the Mayor “failed to recognise him” as the leader of the second largest party in BMC and did not appoint him as LoP in place of Raja, who belongs to the third largest party.
On February 28, Mumbai BJP president Mangal Prabhat Lodha had requested city Mayor Kishori Pednekar to appoint Shinde as the LoP. As per 2017 BMC election results, while ruling party Shiv Sena had 84 members, BJP had 82, Congress 31 and NCP 9.
On March 5, Pednekar had rejected Lodha’s request, prompting Shinde to move HC in June.
In his plea, filed through senior counsel Birendra Saraf and advocate Hitesh Jain, Shinde said that under Section 37-1A of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) Act, which provides for appointment of the LoP, the Mayor was obliged to assess who would be eligible for the post based on numerical strength of the party.
He added that it is only because the BJP in 2017 was not interested in occupying the post that Congress’ Raja was appointed as the LoP in BMC.
As a result of the “recent change in leadership of the BJP”, the party has now demanded that its leader should occupy the post, the plea said. “The decision of a Mayor is not beyond judicial review and she has proceeded on an ex-facie erroneous understanding and application of the legal position,” Saraf told the court.
Senior advocate Ravi Kadam, appearing for Pednekar, submitted that the law did not contemplate that an important post would be occupied depending on the “whims of any person or party”.
After hearing submissions and perusing previous judgments, the court accepted the respondents’ arguments.
In a 38-page order, Justice Kathawalla said: “A mere volte-face or change of heart or decision to increase one’s extent of participation whilst in Opposition, cannot justify the removal of an incumbent Leader of Opposition, who was otherwise duly appointed in accordance with law (and as a result of BJP’s express refusal to accept the post).”
While maintaining that the Mayor’s decision was “just” and “proper” and therefore, no interference was required, the court dismissed Shinde’s plea.
When contacted, Shinde said that he will study the order and then decide on a further course of action.
The order has come as setback for the BJP. Since Sena, Congress and NCP joined hands to form the government in the state last year, BJP had been playing the role of a “watchdog” to keep a check on the Sena-controlled BMC. BJP, which ruled BMC for more than 15 years along with Sena, has been targeting its former ally over alleged corruption and malpractices.
BJP had claimed the post of LoP after July last year. It had stated that since Sena and Congress are in an alliance in the state, it is not “morally” and “legally” right for Congress to hold the post and it is against the interest of the people.
This February, BJP leaders had officially written to Pednekar demanding that they should be given the post of LoP but Sena had rejected the claim saying that the Opposition leader has already been appointed and until the current leader resigns, no one else can be made LoP.
BJP group leader in the BMC, Manoj Kotak, was elected as MP last year and resigned as LoP in the civic body. In March, this year, Shinde was appointed in his place.
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