SC dismisses plea of BJP leader seeking LoP in Greater Mumbai civic body

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New Delhi, Feb 16 (PTI) Legal right to hold the post of leader of opposition (LoP) is not dependent on change in political relationships, the Supreme Court Tuesday said while dismissing BJP leader's claim over LoP in Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) on ground that it was no more with Shiv Sena.

The top court rejected the appeal of BJP councillor Prabhakar Tukaram Shinde that his party is the second largest in the MCGM after Shiv Sena and in the changed political situation, he be made LoP, the post presently occupied by Congress.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, which had earlier agreed to examine the appeal of Shinde against the Bombay High Court order rejecting his claim over LoP, Tuesday did not agree to the contention that Congress, which is a part of 'Maha Vikas Aghadi' (MVA) along with Shiv Sena and NCP and is ruling Maharashtra, cannot enjoy the post of LoP in the civic body against the ethics and the rules.

'We do not know of any case where legal right is dependent on how your relationship changes. Relationship cannot affect your legal right', said the bench which also comprised justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

The bench rejected the contention of senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the BJP leader, as to how political parties which are part of the MVA in the state assembly can enjoy post of the leader of the house and the LoP respectively in the civic body.

“It is not impossible that one party supports another party at the assembly level while opposing it in the municipal council,” the top court said.

Rohatgi said a 'healthy opposition' was necessary in a democracy and in the changed political situation, the post should come to BJP and there cannot be a situation where once a man is elected, he will remain for five years.

He referred to the political development in the state after the last assembly polls and said that earlier, BJP willingly did not take up the post and later it was entitled to it.

The bench said the relationship between BJP and Shiv Sena may change again and legal rights cannot be dependent over it.

In response to the submission that Congress cannot be part of the state government and oppose Shiv Sena in the civic body simultaneously, the bench said, “Yes, they may still oppose Shiv Sena”.

“We don't subscribe to the philosophy that you need to oppose the ruling party for being a constructive opposition,” the bench said.

Earlier on January 21, the court had agreed to examine the plea of Shinde.

In Sep 2020, the Bombay High Court had rejected the BJP leader's petition saying LoP status cannot be claimed on 'mere change of heart'.

In the civic body, Shiv Sena is the largest party with 84 elected councillors and is followed by BJP and Congress which have 82 and 31 members respectively. However, the post of leader of opposition is with the Congress party as the BJP, back in 2017, had refused to take it up due to its then running coalition with Shiv Sena, the plea had said.

Terming the situation as “incongruous”, the bench had issued notice to Maharashtra government, the mayor of the civic body and leader of opposition Ravi Raja on the plea of Shinde.

The elections for the civic body was conducted by the State Election Commission on February 21, 2017 and the BJP was the second largest party inside the house and its leader Manoj Kotak elected the group leader on March 3, 2017.

“It is submitted that BJP temporarily had decided not to take up the post of LoP and had rather decided to act as watchdog and remained neutral,” the plea had said.

In 2019, Manoj Kotak successfully contested the assembly elections from Mumbai north-east seat and resigned from the post of leader of BJP in the MCGM.

“And a letter was sent for appointing petitioner (Prabhakar Tukaram Shinde) as the leader of BJP group and his concomitant recognition as the leader of opposition on February 28, 2020 on the ground that it was the second largest party in the house,” it said.

“However, the Mayor decided to appoint Prabhakar Tukaram Shinde as leader of BJP but declined to appoint him as the LoP in MCGM on March 5, 2020 by an erroneous interpretation of Section 37-IA of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, 1888,” it said. PTI SJK RKS RKS