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Disqualification of 7 Nagaland MLAs

Topics Covered: Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

Disqualification of 7 Nagaland MLAs:


Context:

The Kohima Bench of the Gauhati High Court has dismissed two interlocutory applications filed by the Naga People’s Front (NPF) that sought to keep seven of its suspended MLAs off the 60-member Nagaland Assembly.

Background:

The applications were dismissed pending a final verdict on a plea by the seven MLAs challenging the maintainability of a writ petition relating to their disqualification.

What’s the issue?

  • On April 24, 2019, the NPF filed disqualification petitions against its seven suspended MLAs for “wilfully” defying its collective decision to support the Congress candidate in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
  • NPF claimed the seven MLAs had willfully given up their party membership, thereby attracting provisions under the 10th Schedule (anti-defection law) of the Constitution.
  • These MLAs, however, said as the NPF’s decision to support the Congress candidate was “against the principle of regionalism”, they said they had backed the other candidate. The NPF had not contested the polls.

What is the anti-defection law?

The Tenth Schedule was inserted in the Constitution in 1985 by the 52nd Amendment Act.

  • It lays down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection by the Presiding Officer of a legislature based on a petition by any other member of the House.
  • The decision on question as to disqualification on ground of defection is referred to the Chairman or the Speaker of such House, and his decision is final.

Disqualification:

If a member of a house belonging to a political party:

  1. Voluntarily gives up the membership of his political party, or
  2. Votes, or does not vote in the legislature, contrary to the directions of his political party. However, if the member has taken prior permission, or is condoned by the party within 15 days from such voting or abstention, the member shall not be disqualified.
  3. If an independent candidate joins a political party after the election.
  4. If a nominated member joins a party six months after he becomes a member of the legislature.

Exceptions under the law:

Legislators may change their party without the risk of disqualification in certain circumstances.

  1. The law allows a party to merge with or into another party provided that at least two-thirds of its legislators are in favour of the merger.
  2. In such a scenario, neither the members who decide to merge, nor the ones who stay with the original party will face disqualification.

Decision of the Presiding Officer is subject to judicial review:

The law initially stated that the decision of the Presiding Officer is not subject to judicial review. This condition was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1992, thereby allowing appeals against the Presiding Officer’s decision in the High Court and Supreme Court. However, it held that there may not be any judicial intervention until the Presiding Officer gives his order.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Names of various committees and commissions with regard to Anti Defection law.
  2. Decision of presiding officer vs Judicial review.
  3. Merger vs Split of political parties.
  4. Is anti- defection law applicable to the presiding officer?
  5. Relevant Supreme Court cases and verdicts.

Mains Link:

Examine the provisions of Anti- defection law. Has this law largely failed to meet its objective? Discuss.

Sources: the Hindu.