Making a strong pitch for adjudicating disqualification cases by presiding officers within three months, Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu has observed that a dispute pending before the Election Commission (EC) of India is “not germane” in judging a disqualification petition.
Naidu made the observation while unseating Sharad Yadav and Ali Anwar Ansari from Rajya Sabha late Monday night on the basis of the petitions filed by JD(U) floor leader Ram Chandra Prasad Singh.
Naidu observed: “I am of the view that all such petitions should be decided by the Presiding Officers within a period of around three months, of course, by giving an opportunity, as per law, to the concerned members against whom there are allegations” under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution. This, he said, is “to effectively thwart the evil of political defections…”
Naidu maintained that “intention of lawmakers to vest adjudicatory power with respect to disqualification petitions with the Presiding Officers” to ensure an expeditious disposal is clear from the statement of then Law Minister, while piloting the Constitution (52nd Amendment) Bill in Lok Sabha on January 30, 1985: “If this Bill is to be effective, and if defection is to be outlawed effectively, then we must choose a forum which will decide the matter fearlessly and expeditiously. This is the only forum that is possible.”
Naidu pointed out that then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had “also made a similar observation while participating in the debate on the Bill in the Rajya Sabha: ‘The decision should be automatic…. We also thought that the operation of the Bill should be quick so that there is no time for horse-trading…”
Naidu referred to Rule 7, which states that a member, against whom a petition had been made, will forward his response within seven days. This, he said, was “indicative of the intent of the Rule”.
He pointed at a “widespread criticism of some Presiding Officers, who did not take a decision on the disqualification petitions” within a “reasonable time”. He cited the case of Speaker, Haryana Vidhan Sabha Vs Kuldeep Bishnoi and Others and pointed out that the Speaker took about four years deciding the petition for disqualification — and that, too, after the SC, on September 28, 2012, directed the Speaker “to decide the petition within three months”.
About the practice of referring disqualification cases to the Committee on Privileges, Naidu said a preliminary inquiry by it caused a delay in determination of the final question, “which is against the very grain and object of the Tenth Schedule”. He observed that it was not mandatory to refer every case to the committee. And even after a preliminary inquiry by the committee, “it is for the Chairman to finally analyse facts and come to a final conclusion…. Keeping in view these facts, I decided to proceed with the determination of the question of disqualification of the Respondent myself”.
Regarding Sharad Yadav’s case, Naidu said he had figured out that instead of specifically denying the allegations of anti-party activities levelled by Ram Chandra Prasad Singh against him, Yadav was seeking to establish that Nitish Kumar’s decision to pull out of the Mahagathbandhan, and to align with the BJP, had led to a split in JD(U) — one led by Nitish and the other comprising him and his supporters. Naidu said Yadav tried to establish that his group commanded majority-support within JD(U), and that a dispute in this regard was pending before the Election Commission.
Yadav’s “main” argument was that it was not he, but Nitish and his faction, who had voluntarily given up party membership by violating aims and objectives laid down in the JD(U) constitution. Naidu said the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution did “not take cognizance of any political alliance made by political parties.”
He observed, “The Mahagathbandhan was a political alliance of some parties formed for the purpose of contesting the 2015 Assembly elections in Bihar and JD(U) was one of its constituents…. As such, leaving or joining any political alliance by political parties does not fall within the purview of the anti-defection law.”
On Yadav’s contention that a dispute was pending before the EC, Naidu said it was “not germane to the determination of the disqualification petition, since it is purely an internal matter of the party…falling outside the purview of the Tenth Schedule and, therefore, outside my jurisdiction.” In any case, he observed, “as per facts furnished by the Petitioner and the Respondent [Sharad Yadav] himself, ECI had rejected the claim of the group supported by the Respondent twice, citing lack of documentary evidence…”