The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Lok Sabha secretary general to respond to a petition filed by Trinamool Congress (TMC) member of Parliament Mahua Moitra challenging her expulsion from the Lok Sabha for alleged “ethical misconduct,” but refused to allow Moitra to participate in House proceedings in the meantime.
Even as it consented to investigate Moitra’s plea in detail, it observed that concerns about the court’s jurisdiction and the capacity of judicial review in respect of a decision made by a legislative House would arise in the case.
“We are issuing notice, but we are keeping all issues open to be argued at a later point,” said the bench, asking the LS secretary general to respond within three weeks. The next hearing of the matter was however fixed in March.
While solicitor general Tushar Mehta, representing the LS secretary general, questioned the scope of a judicial review in a case where a sovereign organ of the State had decided its internal discipline, senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Moitra, bemoaned the expulsion of an MP on flimsy grounds in an attempt to silence the voice of the Opposition.
The bench turned down Mehta’s request not to issue a formal notice in the matter though the S-G raised the issue of separation of power, besides the fact that Moitra’s alleged act of sharing her login credentials and password as an MP with an unauthorised person sitting in Dubai threatened national security. “No, no…We are issuing notice and will leave all issues including the issue of our jurisdiction open for a later stage,” it told Mehta.
Singhvi, at this point, requested the bench to consider Moitra’s interim plea for allowing her to participate in the House proceedings but the bench remained indisposed. “No, no…that will be virtually allowing your writ petition. When we are ourselves in doubt as to the extent of our examination, how can we allow this? We are not saying anything in your application. We are not dismissing your application nor are we allowing it today. We will it up when the matter is listed,” it said.
The TMC MP from WB’s Krishnanagar was expelled on December 8 over the cash-for-query charges. She alleged “substantial illegality” and “arbitrariness” by the House’s ethics committee that recommended the action against her.
Moitra, a first-time member who rose to prominence with her combative speeches in the House, was expelled over her “direct involvement” in cash-for-query charges and “unethical” conduct. The Lok Sabha had expelled the TMC legislator with a voice vote amid a walkout by Opposition members, adopting an ethics committee report that recommended her expulsion for sharing her login credentials and password with an unauthorised person, its impact on national security, and accepting gifts and possibly cash as a “quid pro quo” from businessman Darshan Hiranandani.
She found herself embroiled in the row after BJP lawmaker Nishikant Dubey wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla in September on the basis of a complaint by lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai who alleged the TMC legislator accepted money and favours to ask questions in Parliament.
Moitra contested the disqualification process in her appeal, pointing out that she was not permitted to defend herself in the House during a debate of the ethics committee’s conclusions.
On Wednesday, Singhvi argued for Moitra, claiming that she was expelled only for providing her log in credentials, with no accusation of quid pro quo or unlawful monetary gain shown against her.
“Second, importantly, login access to portal does not amount to its use since there is an additional step for authentication in the form of an OTP. Third, no existing code of conduct regulates the sharing of password or access, there are no existing rules, but she has been expelled under a rule on hacking,” said the senior counsel.
Ethics committee arrived at its findings without following principles of natural justice, argued Singhvi, pointing out she was not allowed to cross-examine Hiranandani and Dehadrai, who the lawyer concealed the fact that he was in a physical relationship with the TMC MP.
When the bench asked Singhvi if the court could go into the merits of the matter, the senior counsel replied: “Can Opposition MPs be expelled on such flimsy grounds and your lordships will have no recourse? Can an MP be punished for delegating her work?”.
Singhvi accepted that Moitra shared log in OTPs with Hiranandani but added that many other MPs also shared such OTPs with their secretaries and other staff.
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