Even though the delaying of Manipur Governor’s decision on the Disqualification Case of 12 MLAs of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government has benefitted the Nongthombam Biren’s Government till now, the Supreme Court of India has at last asked the Solicitor General of India to have the Governor of Manipur decide on disqualification.
However, the Supreme Court on November 11 opted not to pass an order after the Solicitor General of India assured the court that the Manipur Governor will soon take a decision on the opinion given by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in January last regarding the disqualification of 12 BJP MLAs in the state in the office-of-profit case.
Though the decision on the opinion of the ECI on the disqualification of 12 MLAs of the BJP-led ruling parties was delayed by the then Governor of Manipur Najma Heptulla, the controversy predates the current Governor of Manipur La Ganesan, although he was appointed to the post only in August.
Significantly, the Supreme Court on November 11 showed its displeasure at the continuous delay made by the Manipur Governor in taking a decision over the matter of disqualification of 12 MLAs of the Manipur Assembly for allegedly holding offices of profit in contravention of the law.
The bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao, Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice B. V. Nagarathna has asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to look into this matter and use his good offices to make sure that Manipur Governor La Ganesan passed an order in pursuance to the opinion given by the Election Commission on January 13, 2021.
Justice Rao has further said that, according to Article 192 of the Constitution of India, the Governor has to make the final decision; however, even after 11 months nothing has happened. The Solicitor General assured the bench that he would do as required and submitted that no direction will be required in the next date of hearing.
The Supreme Court on November 9 had observed that the Manipur Governor cannot delay taking a decision on the opinion given by the Election Commission of India regarding the disqualification of 12 MLAs of the BJP-led ruling parties in Manipur Assembly in the “office of profit” issue.
“Governor cannot sit over an opinion indefinitely. There has to be a decision. He must decide one way or the other,” observed a bench, headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao, as it heard a petition by Congress MLA DD Thaisii.
The present writ petition stated that his fundamental right as an elector and citizen of the State of Manipur is violated by the long and inexplicable delay in disposing of the application submitted under Article 192 of the Constitution of India. The plea alleges that the Election Commission of India has failed to discharge its constitutional duty. The 12 MLAs were appointed as parliamentary secretaries for the State of Manipur, in exercise of powers under Section 3 of The Manipur Parliamentary Secretaries (Appointment, Salary and Allowance and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2012.
The plea reads, “Such appointments as Parliamentary Secretaries were made by the Chief Minister of Manipur, to subvert the provisions of Article 164 (1-A) of the Constitution of India. The offices titled as Parliamentary Secretary for the State of Manipur, are Offices of Profit, in as much as the said appointment elevated the 12 members of the Legislative Assemble of Manipur to the rank and status of Minister of State C (under Section 4 of the 2012 Act) and also entitled them to draw higher Salary and Allowances as are admissible to a Minister of State under The Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Manipur) Act, 1972 (under Section 7 of the 2012 Act).”
The plea further reads: “During 2017, a Member of the Manipur Legislative Assembly was entitled to receive Rs 19,500 per month, apart from allowances under The Salaries and Allowances of Members of the Legislative Assembly (Manipur) Act, 1972, as amended from time to time.”
“During the same time, under The Salaries and Allowances of the Ministers (Manipur) Act, 1972, as amended from time to time, a Minister of State of Manipur was entitled to receive Rs 26,000 per month apart from Sumptuary Allowances, free Residence and Conveyance Allowance. Therefore, the monetary benefit of the 12 members of the Manipur Legislative Assembly, who were appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries, is doubtless and obvious. And that the 12 members of the Legislative Assembly, who were appointed and who accepted appointment as Parliamentary Secretaries, thus, occupied Office of Profit and thus automatically incurred the disqualification under Sub-Clause (a) of Clause (1) of the Article 191 of the Constitution of India and they are not entitled to continue as Members of the Manipur Legislative Assembly and their seats have fallen vacant under Sub-Clause (a) of Clause (3) of Article 190 of the Constitution of India,” the plea said.
Senior counsel Kapil Sibal, representing Thaisii, complained that even after the Election Commission submitted its recommendation to the Governor on January 13, the constitutional head of the state is yet to decide on the plea for disqualifying the 12 MLAs, some of whom are ministers in the state cabinet.
Reports said the counsel for the Manipur government requested on November 9 hearing for an adjournment, saying Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was to appear for the state but he was arguing before a different bench.
“You cannot hoodwink the court like this by taking adjournments. They say that the term of the assembly is getting over in a month or so. You cannot render the petition in fructuous by taking adjournments,” retorted the bench.
Reports said the SC on November 11 told the Solicitor General of India that “in January 13, an opinion was given by the ECI that according to article 192, the governor has to go with the decision. In 11 months, nothing has happened. We do not want to pass an order but please use your good offices for that opinion so that they can be challenged.”
When the matter was called for hearing, presiding judge of the bench Justice L Nageswara Rao, told the Solicitor General to use his good offices so that the same can be given.
“I assure we will do something and no direction will be required to be passed,” Tushar Mehta replied.
It may be mentioned that the tenure of 60 members Manipur Legislative Assembly is scheduled to end on March 19, 2022.
In the 2017 Assembly polls, the ruling Congress won 28 seats in the 60 member House. The BJP got 21 seats. However, the then Governor of Manipur Najma Heptulla invited the BJP to form the government. After the election in 2017, a coalition of the BJP, National People’s Party (NPP), Naga People’s Front (NPF) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and a Congress MLA formed the government, with Nongthombam Biren becoming Chief Minister.
Since then, there have been floor crossings, resignations and disqualifications.
Moreover, to sustain the BJP-led coalition government, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren had to appoint 12 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries on March 15, 2017, giving them the status of a Minister of State apart from other financial benefits and perks.
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 present Supreme Court case arose when 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 were declared unconstitutional by the Manipur High Court in a verdict dated September 17, 2020. Subsequently, Congress approached the then Manipur governor Najma Heptulla, seeking the disqualification of 12 BJP legislators appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries for enjoying office of profit from 2017 onwards. In October 2020, Heptulla sought the EC’s views in this regard.
At present, there are 15 Congress MLAs in the 60-member Manipur Assembly whereas the state government has the support of 37 MLAs which includes 27 BJP legislators. The Manipur Assembly election will take place early next year.
Now, the question is – when there is no time limits from the Supreme Court, how long will the Solicitor General of India take to have Manipur Governor La Ganesan decide on the disqualification? Had the opinion of the ECI in favour of the 12 MLAs or the ruling BJP-led Government, should the then Manipur Governor Najma Heptulla delay the decision on disqualification?
Moreover, the ball is still in the court of Manipur Governor. However, the question again is – Will the Governor La Ganesan follow the footsteps of his predecessor Najma Heptulla on disqualification 12 MLAs buying time as the present Assembly comes to end in early 2022 or take moral responsibility as constitutional head of the state?
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics