Goa Speaker right in not disqualifying 12 MLAs: HC

MORE THAN two years after 10 MLAs from Congress and two from Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) defected to the BJP to give it full majority in Goa Assembly, High Court of Bombay at Goa on Thursday held that the Assembly Speaker was right in not disqualifying the 12 legislators.

A division bench of Justices Manish Pitale and R N Laddha dismissed petitions filed by Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president Girish Chodankar and senior MGP leader Ramkrishna Dhavalikar. Both had challenged the order of Speaker Rajesh Patnekar, who had in April 2021 rejected petitions seeking disqualification of the 12 defectors.

The court held that “the disqualification petitions filed by the petitioners were correctly dismissed” by the Speaker. It said the Speaker was justified in holding that the 10 Congress MLAs and two MGP MLAs “did not attract disqualification under the Tenth Schedule…”.


Question of merger

AS DEFECTIONS are not limited to Goa, the High Court’s verdict may set a precedent to determine the legal validity of political crossovers by elected representatives across the country. Since the court found the merger of legislature parties legally sound, it may open the gates for more such post-poll moves of MLAs elsewhere.

In the 2017 Assembly polls, Congress won 17 seats while the BJP won 13. The BJP, however, formed a coalition government with the MGP, Goa Forward Party and Independents.

One Congress MLA resigned later in 2017 and two followed him in 2018. In 2019, the Congress won the Panaji bypoll after the death of former CM Manohar Parrikar and the party’s strength in the Assembly rose to 15 again.

However, months later, in July 2019, 10 of the 15 Congress MLAs and two of the three MGP MLAs switched over to the BJP, giving the party full majority in the House.

The crossover was done as a “merger” of the legislature parties of Congress and MGP, as two-thirds of their respective MLAs consented to merge with the BJP. The MGP and GFP were then dropped from the government.

At the centre of the case in the court was paragraph 4 of Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, which states that “disqualification on ground of defection not to apply in case of merger”. Sub-paragraph 2 under paragraph 4 of the Tenth Schedule states, “… the merger of the original political party of a member of a House shall be deemed to have taken place if, and only if, not less than two thirds of the members of the legislature party concerned have agreed to such merger”.

“Parliament in its own wisdom has incorporated a deeming fiction under sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 4 of the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution, which protects a member of a House from being disqualified… provided at least two-thirds members of the legislature party agree to merge with another political party,” the court said. “As long as Parliament…has determined threshold of morality of at least two-thirds members of the legislature party agreeing for merger, the courts have nothing else to go by, except the legislative wisdom of Parliament to determine such a threshold of political morality in that context.”

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