No HC relief for rebel MLAs

After hearing the legislators’ petition which challenged Bopaiah’s disqualification ruling on Monday, a division bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice N Kumar reserved their judgment, which will now come four days after a politically bruised and battered Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa seeks a second vote of confidence.

When the bench reserved the matter, one of the petitioners’ advocate requested that the order be pronounced before October 14 so that it would be helpful when the House assembled again to vote on the trust a motion a second time. But the bench said: “ Learned counsel, we have heard the matter. It does not mean we will pass the order. We will have to make up our minds.”

There was palpable tension and a sense of expectation among the high court lawyers, a number of whom assembled in courtroom 1 to hear a significant case involving the finer elements of constitutional law. The arguments presented by the two sides––representatives of  11 BJP and five Independent legislators, and the Speaker––lasted from 11 am till the court rose for the day.

Continuing with his argument in a courtroom packed to capacity, senior Supreme Court advocate P P Rao, who is representing the 11 rebels, submitted that loyalty to the BJP and the chief minister dictated the Speaker’s action in disqualifying the MLAs, emphasising at the same time that the seven-day period, which was mandatory to hear the matter in the Assembly, had been violated.

Rao said the petitioners were disillusioned with the manner in which the BJP-ruled State Government was functioning under the leadership of Yeddyurappa. “There has been widespread corruption, nepotism, favouritism, abuse of power and misuse of the government machinery and (the MLAs) therefore decided to withdraw support,” Rao submitted, driving home the point that the petitioners had not resigned from the party.
On the alleged controversial role the Speaker played in disqualifying the MLAs, including five Independents, Rao said the notices Bopaiah issued to them contravened Article 14 of the Constitution and was violative of the principles of natural justice.

Appearing on behalf of the Speaker, former Attorney General and jurist Soli Sorabjee submitted that natural justice could not be equated with disciplinary action. Citing Supreme Court judgments related to similar cases (Ravi Naik vs Union of India, Jagjit Singh vs State of Haryana and Chandra Prasad Singh vs Chairman, Bihar Legislative Council), Sorabjee said rules of notice were only procedural in nature. “Violation of these rules will not render these orders invalid,” he said.

Countering the rebel MLAs’ arguments that they had not resigned from the party, Sorabjee said all the dissidents had written to Governor H R Bhardwaj, claiming that they have lost confidence in the Yeddyurappa government but not that they had lost confidence in the leader. “Here the government means the BJP, which means they have lost confidence in the party,” Sorabjee said.

On the issue of the mandatory seven days for hearing the matter in the Assembly, Sorabjee said that if need be the Speaker can hear the matter within seven days.
The courtroom witnessed confusion when petitioners’ counsel said that seven members who were ministers had resigned from their posts. Sorabjee immediately objected to this, saying that none of them had resigned but had been removed from the Cabinet since they had resorted to anti-party activities. When the court directed seeking the correct position on the issue, the government immediately conveyed a clarification.

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