In a recent development on January 3, the Supreme Court has turned down Mahua Moitra’s plea for interim relief following her expulsion from the Lok Sabha in connection with the Cash for Questions case. The former Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP was ousted from the parliament after the ethics committee’s report was presented on December 8, 2023.
Mahua Moitra’s legal representative, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, urged the court for interim relief to allow her participation in the upcoming budget session of the parliament. However, the court dismissed the plea and directed the Lok Sabha secretariat to submit a response to the case within a stipulated period of 14 days. The subsequent hearing for the case is scheduled for March 11, 2024.
Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta underscored a crucial aspect of consideration – the authority of the Court to scrutinize Lok Sabha’s actions. The court mandated a response within two weeks, with a provision for a rejoinder from the petitioner, if necessary, within the ensuing three weeks.
During the proceedings, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Mahua Moitra, did not dispute her sharing parliamentary login credentials with industrialist Darshan Hiranandani. Instead, Singhvi justified this action by drawing a parallel with MPs delegating tasks to their assistants. He argued that sharing login credentials and OTPs did not violate any rules, emphasising that there is no specific regulation prohibiting MPs from sharing such information with others.
In his argument, Abhishek Manu Singhvi contended, “The sole basis for her expulsion is the sharing of her login credentials. Secondly, having login access to the portal does not constitute its use, as an additional step for authentication in the form of an OTP is required. Thirdly, there is no existing code of conduct governing the sharing of passwords or access; there are no established rules. However, she has been expelled under a rule pertaining to hacking.”
Interestingly, Singhvi also asserted that advocate Jai Anant Dehadrai deliberately omitted the fact that Mahua Moitra was in a physical relationship with him. It’s noteworthy that Dehadrai, identified as Moitra’s ‘jilted ex,’ exposed her by revealing that Hiranandani posted questions in the Lok Sabha on behalf of Moitra, utilising her parliamentary login credentials from Dubai.
Singhvi stated, “The ethics committee reached its findings without adhering to the principles of natural justice. Two private citizens submitted a complaint, yet I am not permitted to cross-examine. The alleged bribe-giver was not summoned, and the committee’s findings are contradictory. Mr. Jai, the complainant, intentionally withheld the fact that she was in a physical relationship with him. He claimed that Mr. Hiranandani was instructing her to submit questions. On the contrary, Mr. Hiranandani asserted that he was being pressured to submit. Can an MP not delegate her work? Consider Hiranandani as her secretary for a moment. Now, one might argue that he is not her secretary.”
To this, Justice Khanna said, “So you are accepting that you shared the OTP with Hiranandani?”
Abhishek Manu Singhvi further argued, “A motion was moved based on the committee’s report. However, members were not granted the opportunity to examine the 439-page-long report. It was tabled at noon on December 8, without prior sharing. The debate commenced at 2 PM, and the earliest supply was made available at 12, with the last supply occurring after the commencement of the debate. Even Your Lordships grant us time to go through counters, etc.”
When the court sought a response from the Lok Sabha Secretariat, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the secretariat, stated, “Lordships may refrain from issuing notice. Kindly avoid issuing notice. The sovereign organ of the state determines its internal disciplinary matters based on evidence. What is the scope of judicial review, if any?” Senior Advocate Maninder Singh appeared for MP Nishikant Dubey, who lodged the complaint against Moitra.
In its order, the court declared, “Several issues have been raised. We would not like to comment on any issue at this stage. One of the issues pertains to the jurisdiction of this court and the power of judicial review. Let a reply be filed by the first respondent within 3 weeks. Rejoinder, if any, within 3 weeks. Relist in the week commencing March 11.”
On December 8, Lok Sabha took the decision to expel Mahua Moitra, a Trinamool Congress MP, based on the recommendations put forth by the Ethics Committee in a cash-for-query case. This expulsion occurred shortly after the Ethics Committee’s report was presented in the Lok Sabha.
The seismic event in Indian politics unfolded on October 14 when BJP MP Nishkant Dubey wrote to the ethics committee, urging an inquiry into TMC MP Mahua Moitra regarding the ‘Cash for Query’ issue. Dubey’s complaint relied on a letter from Supreme Court lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai, who claimed that many of the questions posed by Moitra in Lok Sabha directly or indirectly favored businessman Darshan Hiranandani. Dehadrai additionally accused Moitra of “kidnapping” his pet dog Henry, introducing further complexity to the Mahuagate controversy.
In response, Moitra initiated legal proceedings against Dubey and Dehadrai, although she never refuted the acceptance of gifts. Intriguingly, she has also faced allegations of sharing her Lok Sabha credentials with Hiranandani, enabling him to independently submit questions. Hiranandani reportedly turned approver in the case, submitting an affidavit that supports the claims against Moitra.