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Delaying of Manipur Governor’s Decision on the Disqualification Case of 12 MLAs is Aimed at Benefitting the BJP-led Government in State

The deferment of the much-awaited final judgement of Manipur’s office of profit case before the Supreme Court of India has at least changed the political atmosphere of Manipur.

Before the deferment of the final judgement, the opposition Congress party thought that the 12 MLAs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led ruling parties would be disqualified, which would in turn have brought the government into minority creating a new political environment where the Congress party would have an opportunity to establish a new political alignment and thereafter form a government.

On the other hand, the ruling BJP has a strong belief that the Supreme Court judgement will not affect the present government in Manipur because the matter of the case was already settled with the opinion of the Election Commission of India which favoured them had already reached the Governor of Manipur.

However, the prayer of the petitioner D.D. Thaisii is seeking a direction from the Supreme Court to expedite the decision of the Governor of Manipur on the disqualification case.

The Supreme Court on July 26 heard pleas related to disqualification of 12 MLAs who were appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries in Manipur in an office of profit case and after hearing the petitioner was permitted to amend the petition in W.P. (Civil) No. 151/2021. Further the petitioner was permitted to replace certain pages of the petition in S.L.P. (Civil) Nos. 2001-2005/2021, and ordered to list the matter on August 28.

The deferment of the Supreme Court case on the disqualification of 12 ruling MLAs of the BJP-led parties till August 28 gives a sigh of relief to the Nongthombam Biren government.

The Supreme Court was supposed to announce the final judgment on July 26 on the disqualification case of 12 MLAs, who were appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries in Manipur for holding office of profit after the hearing of the case before the Supreme Court on July 5 as per a petition filed by Congress MLA DD Thaisii and other Special Leave Petitions filed before the Court.

Earlier, the High Court of Manipur also made it clear that the Manipur Parliamentary Secretary (Appointment, Salary and Allowances and Miscellaneous Provision) Repealing Act 2018 was invalid. After hearing the petition filed by Congress MLAs Surjakumar Okram and DD Thaisii, the High Court of Manipur passed a judgement on September 18, 2020 which categorically stated that the Manipur Parliamentary Secretary (Appointment, Salary and Allowances and Miscellaneous Provision) Act, 2012 and the Manipur Parliamentary Secretary (Appointment, Salary and Allowances and Miscellaneous Provision) Repealing Act 2018 are unconstitutional.

The 12 MLAs who were appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries are Leishangthem Susindro of Khurai Assembly Constituency (AC) -BJP, Nahakpam Indrajit of Kshetrigao AC -BJP Lourembam Rameshwor of Keirao AC -BJP, Thokchom Satyabrata of Yaiskul AC -BJP, Heikham Dingko of Sekmai AC -BJP, Dr Sapam Ranjan of Konthoujam AC -BJP, Soibam Subhashchandra of Naoriya Pakhanglakpa AC -BJP who has since resigned from the Assembly, Kongkham Robindro of Mayang Imphal AC -BJP, Keishing Leishiyo of Phungyar AC -NPF, Khasim Vashum of Chingai AC -NPF, Awangbow Newmai of Tamei AC -NPF and Asab Uddin of Jiribam AC -IND.

The 12 MLAs were sworn in as Parliamentary Secretaries on March 15, 2017, the day chief minister Nongthombam Biren and his Council of Ministers were sworn in.

Manipur Congress MLA D.D. Thaisii on July 26 urged before the Supreme Court his plea for the expeditious decision by the Governor of Manipur as to the disqualification of 12 Ruling MLAs of Manipur Assembly under Article 192 for holding Offices of Profit on their appointment as Parliamentary Secretaries.

The bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose was hearing a writ petition filed by D. D. Thaisii, Congress MLA from Manipur, who sought a direction to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to perform its Constitutional obligation under Article 192 and submit its opinion as to the disqualification to the Governor, in the interest of justice and for maintaining the purity of the Manipur Legislative Assembly.

Reports quoted Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal appearing for the petitioner, as saying, “The Manipur High Court has already held that there is no concept of the office of Parliamentary Secretary and that they are offices of profit. They have also come up in appeal here. In the meantime, the Governor has written to the Election Commission and apparently, the Election Commission has written back to the Governor…There is a newspaper report- but we don’t know what that advice is…”

The Supreme Court bench was informed on behalf of the Election Commission of India that the grievance of the petitioner was that the Commission was not taking any action under Article 192 and that the ECI has already rendered its opinion to the Manipur Governor in January in compliance with Article 192, and as result, these matters have become infructuous.

However, reports said Kapil Sibal pressed further, “The Election Commission said the opinion was rendered in January. We are in July and the Governor has still not decided. There is no point in my going back to the Governor to decide if they have not decided in six months…If it is against me, fine, and if it is in my favour, fine. But these are constitutional authorities who have constitutional obligations to decide the matter!”

Notably, the Manipur Parliamentary Secretary (Appointment, Salary and Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2012, and the Manipur Parliamentary (Appointment, Salary and Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Repealing Act, 2018 ceased to exist after the Manipur High Court pronounced them invalid and unconstitutional in a judgment on September 17, 2020.

After the High Court declared these Acts void ab initio, the Manipur Congress had approached Governor Najma Heptulla seeking disqualification of the 12 BJP MLAs on account of holding the position of parliamentary secretaries, which qualified as ‘office of profit’ after the High Court ruling. The governor had sought the EC’s views on the matter in October last year.

The Supreme Court had earlier this year issued notice on a writ petition seeking a direction to the Election Commission of India to submit its opinion to the Governor of Manipur to enable the expeditious disposal of the petition regarding the disqualification of 12 Members of the Manipur Legislative Assembly have incurred disqualification under Article 192 of the Constitution of India for holding Offices of Profit.

The plea has further stated that the petitioners submitted a petition, to the Governor of Manipur to take a decision under Article 192 of the Constitution of India for disqualification of the said 12 members. The Governor of Manipur referred the application to the Election Commission of India for its opinion, as contemplated under Article 192 of the Constitution of India. However, Election Commission has not submitted its opinion for disposal of the petition.

“This Writ Petition is filed to maintain the purity of the legislative assembly of the State of Manipur as the Election Commission of India has failed to discharge its constitutional duty due to which, 12 members of the legislative assembly of the State of Manipur, who have incurred disqualification under Article 191(1)(a) of the Constitution of India are continuing as members of the House, despite their apparent and undisputed disqualification. ”

The petitioner has submitted in the plea that based on the analogy laid down by the Apex Court in its previous judgements, quasi judicial authority acting as a tribunal is bound to decide the question of disqualification within a reasonable period and an outer limit of 3 months has been given. The constitutional objective of deciding on the disqualification of membership remains the same in the present case and the Election Commission is bound by law to assist the Governor in delivering his decision on the question within 3 months i.e. the outer limit.

Notably, the Supreme Court is said to have been informed that the ECI has already rendered its opinion to the Manipur Governor in January in compliance with Article 192.

However, the delaying of Manipur governor’s decision on the disqualification case of the 12 MLAs has not only supplied oxygen to them but also benefitted the BJP-led Nongthombam Biren’s Government.

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