Meghalaya HC refers PIL for legislators’ disqualification to full bench

The Meghalaya High Court on Friday referred a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking disqualifications of state legislators holding dual post to a larger bench saying that such important issues are required to be decided by a full bench.

A division bench of Justice T. Nandakumar Singh and Justice Sudip Ranjan Sen also noted that the disqualification of the eight legislators holding dual posts is left to the competent authority under the constitution’s article 192 to take an appropriate decision.

The order came a day after Meghalaya Governor V Shanmuganathan gave his assent to “Prevention of Disqualification (Members of Legislative Assembly of Meghalaya) (Amendment) Act, 2015, which prohibits legislators from holding from holding another elected office.

Article 192 states that if any question arises as to whether a member of a house of the legislature of a state has become subject to any of the disqualifications mentioned in clause (1) of article 191, the question shall be referred for the decision of the governor and his decision shall be final. It also notes that the governor, before giving any decision, will obtain the Election Commission’s opinion and act according to it.

The court said that on bare perusal of the act, it appears that the present legislators who hold the dual post i.e. posts of chairman, chief executive member and other executive member, or ordinary member of a district council in an autonomous district or any member nominated in district council are “no more protected from disqualification”.

Eight legislators barring senior Congress legislator P.N.Syiem, who is the present chief executive member of the Khasi Hill Autonomous District Council (KHADC), have quit their membership from the KHADC and Jaintia Hill Autonomous District Council (JHADC) in view of the new legislation.

However, the court noted that the present writ petition filed by Civil Society Women’s Organisation president Agnes Kharshiing also called for decision of other important issues such as whether or not those holding dual post are disqualified from both, the effective date of disqualification of the concerned members if they are disqualified, would the said act be applicable in the present case or not and other issues.

It said “..this question is left to the competent authority to take an appropriate decision view of the act, while the pendency of the present writ petition shall not cause any prejudice or bar the authority in taking a decision.

Under the constitutions’s sixth schedule, Meghalaya has three district councils – for the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills – having powers on myriad issues such as forests, tax collection, and so on.

Fixing the next hearing for October 14, the division bench directed the registry to place the matter before Chief Justice Uma Nath Singh for setting up a bench.