Cash-for-query-row: SC seeks LS Secretariat's response to Mahua's plea against expulsion

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The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday asked the Secretary General of Lok Sabha to file a reply to the writ petition filed by Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra, challenging her recent expulsion from the Lok Sabha. File Photo: PTI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday asked the Secretary General of Lok Sabha to file a reply to the writ petition filed by Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra, challenging her recent expulsion from the Lok Sabha. Moitra, elected as MP from the Krishnangar constituency in West Bengal was expelled from the Lok Sabha on December 8, over alleged misconduct in the cash-for-query case.

Moitra challenged her expulsion in the top court after the Lok Sabha adopted the report of its ethics committee that held her guilty of accepting gifts and illegal gratification from businessman Darshan Hiranandani.

Considering Moitra's plea, the bench consisting of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta issued a notice to the Secretary General of Lok Sabha. In the notice, the bench observed that one of the issues will be the jurisdiction of the Court to review the action of the Lok Sabha. 

The reply has to be filed within three weeks and a rejoinder by the petitioner, if any, within three marks thereafter. The matter will be listed in the week commencing from March 11, 2024.

Meanwhile, the bench turned down a prayer made by Advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi on behalf of the petitioner to allow Moitra to attend Lok Sabha proceedings in the meantime as an interim measure. The bench said that it is not expressing anything on the application for interim relief at the present juncture.

As Singhvi argued in the court, the only concrete finding against Moitra in the ethics committee report was that she had unauthorisedly shared the login credentials of her MP portal with third parties. He contended that there is no rule prohibiting the sharing of login credentials. Sharing login credentials is a standard practice followed by many MPs, who delegate their work to Secretaries and assistants to upload questions, Singhvi added.

Singhvi alleged violations of the principles of natural justice since Darshan Hiranandani, who filed an affidavit before the ethics committee making allegations against Moitra, was not allowed to be cross-examined. He argued that expulsion of opposition MPs on such "flimsy grounds" is a matter of grave constitutional importance. 

On the other hand, the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Lok Sabha Secretary General, submitted that the Court cannot interfere with the internal functioning of the legislature.

The controversy around Mahua Moitra began after the BJP MP Nishikant Dubey wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla in September based on a complaint by Supreme Court lawyer Jai Anant Dehradai, who alleged that Mahua accepted money and favours to ask questions in Parliament.

In an affidavit to the ethics committee on October 19, Darshan Hiranandani claimed that Moitra provided him with her login ID and password for the Lok Sabha members’ website. The CBI has already filed a preliminary FIR in the case.

As soon as Moitra's plea challenging her expulsion from the Lok Sabha was taken by the top court for hearing, a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti on December 15 told Abhishek Singhvi that the bench had not gone through the case files and it would like to hear it upon reopening of the court after winter break, which ends on January 3.

It was on December 8, after a heated debate in the Lok Sabha over the panel report -- 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," which was adopted by a voice vote.

The ethics committee found Moitra guilty of "unethical conduct" and contempt of the House as she 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.
(With inputs from Livelaw and PTI)

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