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Explained: The Maharashtra House resolution on Arnab Goswami, and its face-off with judiciary

Questioning the boundaries of the judiciary's powers, both Houses of the Maharashtra State Legislature passed proposals Tuesday stating that they will not take cognizance of or reply to any notice sent by the High Court or the Supreme Court in the Breach of Privilege motion against Republic TV editor and anchor Arnab Goswami.

Written by Zeeshan Shaikh , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai | Updated: December 23, 2020 12:16:59 pm
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The decision by both Houses of the Maharashtra State Legislature to not respond to any notice sent by the High Court or the Supreme Court in the Breach of Privilege motion against Republic TV editor and anchor Arnab Goswami has added a new twist to the debate over the separation of powers between the judiciary and legislature.

What is the doctrine of separation of power?

The doctrine of separation of power is a part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution, even though it is not specifically mentioned in its text. It implies that the three pillars of democracy, namely the executive, judiciary and legislature, perform separate functions and act as separate entities. One of the features of the doctrine is that one arm of the state should not interfere in the functioning of the other organs or exercise a function of another organ.

What resolution did the Maharashtra Assembly pass on Tuesday?

Questioning the boundaries of the judiciary’s powers, both Houses of the Maharashtra State Legislature passed proposals Tuesday stating that they will not take cognizance of or reply to any notice sent by the High Court or the Supreme Court in the Breach of Privilege motion against Republic TV editor and anchor Arnab Goswami. Both the proposals stated that replying to such notices could mean accepting that the judiciary can keep a check on the legislature and would be “inconsistent with the basic structure of the Constitution”. The proposals were passed during the two-day Winter Session that ended Tuesday.

“The Constitution has set clear cut boundaries for the three organs of the government – the judiciary, the legislature and the executive. Each organ should honour these boundaries. No one should encroach on each other’s territories,” said Speaker Nana Patole.

“…publicly, the legislature, secretariat, its secretaries and other officers responding to court notices and other correspondence means, in a way, accepting that the judiciary can keep a check on the legislature and it would be inconsistent with the Basic Structure of the Constitution,” said Chairman Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What are the reasons for the Maharashtra Assembly to pass such a resolution?

The genesis of the proposal is the privilege motion filed by the members of Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi Government against Republic TV editor and anchor Arnab Goswami. Two such separate privilege motions were filed on September 8 in the Legislative Assembly by Shiv Sena MLA Pratap Sarnaik against Goswami. Seeking admission of his motion, Sarnaik accused Goswami of using “derogatory language” and making baseless remarks against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP president Sharad Pawar. He further said that Goswami has been frequently insulting ministers, Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha members during TV debates.

Another one was moved in the Legislative Council on the same day by Shiv Sena legislator Manisha Kyanade and Congress legislator Bhai Jagtap. The proposal was forwarded by the Chairman of the Legislative Council on November 3 to the Privilege Committee for an inquiry.

On September 29, Goswami had moved the Supreme Court to challenge one of the privilege motions filed by Sarnaik. While the court granted relief to Goswami from arrest in the matter on November 6, the SC took exception to a letter dated October 13 sent to Goswami by Maharashtra Legislative Secretariat’s deputy secretary Vilas Athawale. The letter is alleged to have raised questions on how Goswami submitted confidential proceedings in the Lower House regarding breach of the privilege motion against him to the Supreme Court without the Speaker’s permission.

The SC stated that the content of the letter was to “intimidate the petitioner” and on November 6 the Supreme Court had issued a showcause notice to Athawale asking him to explain why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him for his letter to the journalist.

Athavale had subsequently apologised to the SC and had said that he had acted on the instructions of the Speaker to send the letter. The Supreme Court on November 26 had then said that it might be “necessary in all probability to serve the Speaker” to know his version in matter. The proposal moved by the Maharashtra Assembly is an attempt to safeguard itself against any such notice and ensure that its officials or the speaker are not asked to present itself against the court.

What legal provisions has the state assembly invoked while passing the proposal?

The proposal cites two articles of the constitution as the basis of its argument. They are articles 194 of the Constitution, which lays down the powers and privileges of the Houses of Legislatures. Article 194 states that there shall be freedom of speech in the Legislature of every State and no member of the Legislature of a State shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in the Legislature or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of a House of such a Legislature of any report, paper, votes or proceedings.

Article 212 states that the validity of any proceedings in the Legislature of a State shall not be called in question on the ground of any alleged irregularity of procedure and no officer or member of the Legislature of a State in whom powers are vested by or under this Constitution for regulating procedure or the conduct of business, or for maintaining order, in the Legislature shall be subject to the jurisdiction of any court in respect of the exercise by him of those powers.

Has there been a precedent of a similar proposal being passed in the Maharashtra Assembly?

In 2010, Congress MLA Yashomati Thakur had moved a privilege motion against Shrinivas Karve, head of the caste verification committee. The officer challenged the motion in court and the Bombay High Court had subsequently issued summons to the MLA and served notices to legislature officials.

Subsequently in April 2011, the state assembly passed a resolution to deny the summons served to office bearers and members of the assembly by a court. While the MLA did not have to present herself before court, Karve in 2013 was handed a one-day civil imprisonment punishment by the State Legislative Assembly as part of the privilege proceedings.

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