SC refuses reprieve to Mahua on expulsion

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought a reply from the Lok Sabha secretary general on Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra’s plea challenging her expulsion from the Lower House.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta also refused to pass an order on her interim prayer that she be permitted to attend the Lok Sabha proceedings, saying that allowing it will amount to granting her the main relief.

“We will consider your plea for interim relief in March,” Justice Khanna told Senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, who appeared for Moitra.

The current Lok Sabha will have one more session — the Budget Session — before the general elections are held.

The SC refused to issue notice to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and the Committee on Ethics of the House.

Both were made respondents by Moitra in her plea.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Lok Sabha secretary general, urged the bench not to issue a formal notice and said he will file a reply to Moitra’s petition.

Mehta said the court should not venture into the internal matter of discipline in another sovereign organ of the State.

He said Parliament can internally manage disciplinary issues involving its members through its in-house procedures which are not amenable to judicial review and so Moitra’s plea is not maintainable.

“Any interference by one organ (judiciary) into the functioning of another organ (Parliament) of the State will violate the separation of powers enshrined under the Constitution,” he said.

Justice Khanna said he is not going into these questions at present. The bench, he said, is leaving all issues open to be adjudicated at a later stage.

“A number of issues have been raised. We would not like to comment on any issue at this stage. One of the issues is with regard to jurisdiction of this court and the power of judicial review…Solicitor General appears for secretary general, Lok Sabha secretariat. Let reply be filed within a period of three weeks. Rejoinder, if any, be filed thereafter within three weeks,” the bench ordered.

It listed the matter for resumed hearing in the week commencing March 11.

Singhvi said contrary to things floating around, Moitra has been expelled for sharing her parliamentary log-in details.

“First, there is only one ground on which she is expelled, which is sharing her login credentials. Second, log-in access to the portal does not amount to its use since there is an additional step for authentication in the form of One Time Password (OTP). Third, there is no existing code of conduct and rules regulating the sharing of password or access to the portal,” he submitted.

Moitra, he said, was expelled under a rule for hacking.

“Can an MP, who is a busy person, not delegate his work? Imagine Hiranandani (businessman Darshan Hiranandani) to be her secretary for a minute…

Almost every parliamentarian delegates their work to their secretaries…” Singhvi said.

He added the Committee on Ethics of the House acted on a complaint by two private individuals without following the principle of natural justice as Moitra was not allowed to cross-examine them.

“Natural justice is on two things. First, no cross examination of private individuals was allowed and secondly, when the motion for disqualification was moved in the House, members were not given the opportunity to examine the 439-page report of the ethics committee,” he said.

Justice Khanna asked whether Moitra has admitted to having shared her log-in credentials to which Singhvi replied in the affirmative.

“Now, the second question. Can the court go into the merit of the matter?” the bench asked Singhvi to which he replied that an opposition MP cannot be disqualified on such flimsy grounds.

Singhvi added, “If you pick every irregularity and start expelling people, then there will be no democracy left.”

On December 8, after a heated debate in the Lok Sabha over the panel report, during which Moitra was not allowed to speak, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi moved a motion to expel the TMC MP from the House for “unethical conduct”. The motion was adopted by a voice vote.

The ethics committee found Moitra guilty of “unethical conduct” and contempt of the House as she had shared her Lok Sabha members’ portal credentials — user ID and password — with unauthorised people, which had an irrepressible impact on national security, Joshi had said.

The committee had also recommended that in view of the “highly objectionable, unethical, heinous and criminal conduct” of Moitra, an intense legal and institutional inquiry be initiated by the government with a set deadline.