New Delhi: A Speaker cannot simply have disqualification petitions remain pending on his desk indefinitely, observed the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, pulled up Tamil Nadu legislative assembly's Speaker and BJP leader P Dhanapal for not deciding disqualification petitions against 11 AIADMK MLAs, including deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam since March 2017.
The top court was hearing a plea moved by the opposition party, the DMK, which pointed out that the Speaker has not even issued notices to the 11 MLAs for voting against their own party and CM Edappadi K Palanisamy in a confidence motion in 2017.
While senior lawyer Kapil Sibal appeared for the DMK, Mukul Rohatgi represented the MLAs against whom the disqualification petitions were moved under the Tenth Schedule.
Justice Bobde asked the Advocate General, who was appearing for the Speaker, as to what caused the delay of almost three years in deciding these petitions.
The Advocate General talked about the pendency of connected issues before the Election Commission as well as the Madras High Court. He added that six months after the 11 MLAs voted against their own party, they merged again.
But the bench was unimpressed. "All that is over now. In fact, the proceedings before the Election Commission got over in November 2017. What were you doing since then?"
The bench questioned the Advocate General as to why no action was taken on the disqualification petitions against 11 MLAs in the last three years.
"This delay was unnecessary. This delay of three years should have been avoided. A Speaker can't sit on such petitions for three years," commented the CJI.
Justice Bobde added that the Speaker can't let these things remain on his desk indefinitely.
The judge also cited a recent judgment by the Supreme Court that held that the Speaker should ideally decide such petitions within three months.
"This judgment currently holds the field at the moment. Even otherwise you can't sit on these things for three years," said the CJI.
The court has now given the Speaker time till February 14 to apprise the bench of what he proposes to do about the disqualification petitions.