The Bombay High Court recently held that the mayor of a municipal corporation has “no choice or discretion as to who should be recognised as the leader of the House”. The court said that as per the Maharashtra Municipal Corporation (MMC) Act, “the mayor has to first determine which party in the ruling combination has greatest numerical strength and then recognise the leader of that party as the leader of House”.
The HC observed that a decision by the mayor of the Bhiwandi Nizampur Municipal Corporation (BNMC) to remove councillor Shyam M Agarwal – the leader of the House from BJP – and replacing him with a candidate supported by the Congress was “arbitrary and contrary to the MMC Act”.
Justice A A Sayed and Justice S G Dige passed the order while hearing a writ plea filed by Agarwal, challenging the decisions of Mayor Pratibha Vilas Patil, who represents Konark Vikas Aghadi (KVA).
On February 26, 2021, the mayor had written to the BJP city president, stating that Agarwal, after becoming the leader of the House on January 22, 2021, had started defaming her and her family members, thereby bringing disrepute to his post.
Last March, the mayor had declared another BJP councillor, Kamini Ravindra Patil, as the leader of the House in place of Agarwal. However, Patil declined to accept the position.
On March 16, 2021, Agarwal was informed that Vikas Sakharam Nikam was being appointed as the leader of House, prompting him to approach HC.
Senior advocate Ranjit Thorat, appearing for Agarwal, said that while Congress, with 47 councillors, had the highest number of seats after elections, due to cross-voting by a faction of 18 Congress councillors, the party, along with 12 members of Shiv Sena, chose to sit in the Opposition. Thus, Congress was not entitled to have a say in the appointment of the leader of the House.
Thorat argued that as per Section 19-1A of the MMC Act, the mayor was duty bound to appoint the leader of the House from the party having the highest number of seats and had no authority to remove Agarwal without the consent of BJP, which is a ruling party BNMC.
Agarwal said the mayor’s decision, merely based on alleged personal remarks made by him, was taken unilaterally without any discussion in the general body meeting.
However, senior advocate Ram Apte, appearing for the mayor, argued that Congress is the largest party in the House and its group leader had nominated and supported Nikam, who had the support of 51 Congress and KVA councillors.
The bench observed that while BJP has the highest numerical strength and is a ruling party, Congress, which has decided to sit in the Opposition, can have no say in the matter of appointment of the leader of the House.
“It is inconceivable that the party in Opposition and whose member is appointed as the leader of the Opposition will dictate who should be appointed as the leader of the House… that would be completely contrary to the principles of democratic set-up and polity… Nikam cannot hold the post based on support given by Congress…,” it added.
“… the law does not give the mayor any choice or discretion as to who should be recognised as a leader of the House,” said the High Court.