Questioning the boundaries of the judiciary’s powers, both Houses of the Maharashtra State Legislature passed proposals Tuesday stating that they will not take cognizance of or reply to any notice sent by the High Court or the Supreme Court in the Breach of Privilege motion against Republic TV editor and anchor Arnab Goswami.
Both the proposals stated that replying to such notices could mean accepting that the judiciary can keep a check on the legislature and would be “inconsistent with the Basic Structure of the Constitution”. The proposals were passed during the two-day Winter Session that ended Tuesday.
In the State Assembly, the proposal was declared as “passed unanimously” by Speaker Nana Patole. It stated that Speaker Patole and Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal would not respond to any notice or summons issued by the Supreme Court.
In the Legislative Council, too, the proposal was passed unanimously, said Chairman Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar. It stated that no cognizance will be taken of any notice or summons issued by the High Court or Supreme Court if Goswami challenges Breach of Privilege proceedings.
“The Constitution has set clear cut boundaries for the three organs of the government — the judiciary, the legislature and the executive. Each organ should honour these boundaries. No one should encroach on each other’s territories,” said Speaker Patole.
“…publicly, the legislature, secretariat, its secretaries and other officers responding to court notices and other correspondence means, in a way, accepting that the judiciary can keep a check on the legislature and it would be inconsistent with the Basic Structure of the Constitution,” said Chairman Nimbalkar.
While no opposition was recorded to the move, BJP MLA Rahul Narvekar said in the Assembly that passing such a motion would set a “wrong precedent”.
The proposals mark the latest chapter in the faceoff that began after a Breach of Privilege motion was moved in the Assembly by Shiv Sena’s Pratap Sarnaik on September 8 against Goswami. Sarnaik accused Goswami of using “derogatory language” and “making baseless remarks” against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP president Sharad Pawar, and “frequently insulting” Ministers and MPs during TV debates.
On November 6, hearing Goswami’s petition challenging the Breach of Privilege notice, the Supreme Court issued a contempt notice to the assistant secretary of the Assembly who, in a letter, had questioned Goswami for approaching the top court against the notice and producing before it “confidential” communications from the Speaker and the House Privileges Committee.
On November 26, the Supreme Court had said that it might be “necessary in all probability to serve the Speaker” to know his version in matter.
On Tuesday, Speaker Patole initiated the motion of the Treasury benches and cited articles 194 of the Constitution, which lays down the powers and privileges of the Houses of Legislatures, and 212, which pertains to courts not inquiring into proceedings of the legislature.
In the Council, Chairman Nimbalkar referred to a separate Breach of Privilege motion moved by Shiv Sena legislator Manisha Kyanade and Congress legislator Bhai Jagtap on September 8. The proposal was forwarded on November 3 by the Chairman to the Privilege Committee for inquiry.
“The possibility of Goswami challenging the Breach of Privilege proceedings of the Upper House in Supreme Court cannot be ruled out… then, with all due respect to the High Court and Supreme Court, no response should be given to the notices, summons issued by them and to any other correspondence by Goswami through his lawyers as per the provisions of the Articles 194 and 212 of the Constitution to maintain the sovereign position of the Legislature,” said Nimbalkar.
Referring to an earlier case involving a government official and an MLA, Nimbalkar pointed out that a proposal was passed at the time by the House stating that no response should be given to High Court and Supreme Court notices.
“So, if Goswami challenges the Breach of Privilege proceedings in High Court or Supreme Court through writ petition, then the Legislative Council Chairman, chief of privilege committee of Legislative Council, members of the House, secretaries and other officials should not give any response to correspondence by the court and also should not appear in High Court and Supreme Court,” Nimbalkar added.
The Chairman said the legislature secretariat will communicate the Constitutional provisions and well-established customs and traditions to the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Advocate General to bring to the notice of the Supreme Court — if Goswami challenges the Breach of Privilege proceedings.
Speaking in the Assembly, however, BJP’s Narvekar said: “The Supreme Court notice to the Deputy Secretary in the case was in exception to the language used in the letter written by him to the editor. It has not encroached in any way on the rights of the legislature to legislate. If the legislature passes such a motion, it will set a wrong precedent.”
But Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anil Parab said the proposal was limited to upholding the esteem of the Speaker’s chair and ensuring that the presiding authority is safeguarded from judicial scrutiny in matters of legislation.
Both the Houses also extended the time given to their privilege committees for deciding the motion against Goswami, and another on remarks passed by actor Kangana Ranaut, amid objections by the Opposition.