Speaker is going by the rule book

Speaker is going by the rule book

Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar address the media on the various political development at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru on Tuesday. | DH Photo: Pushkar V

With Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy’s government in Karnataka on the brink of collapse following the resignation of 16 ruling Congress-JD(S) MLAs and the withdrawal of support by two independents, Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar’s role has come into focus as any decision taken by him will have an impact on the longevity of the regime.

The tally of the ruling combine has fallen to 100 in the 224-member house, and the chief minister seems to have lost his majority, but legally the government has not yet been reduced to a minority as the resignations are still to be accepted by the Speaker. Though the BJP, which is waiting in the wings to occupy the treasury benches, has insinuated that the Speaker is adopting delaying tactics to give the government a breather, the facts indicate that Ramesh Kumar has gone strictly by the rule book, at least up to now.

The first batch of MLAs submitted their resignations to the legislative assembly secretary on July 6 as the Speaker was not in office. Ramesh Kumar was away tending to a close relative who was seriously ill. But he had taken up the resignation issue immediately upon resuming office on July 9. 

The issue of resignation is dealt with in Chapter XXII of the ‘Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Karnataka Legislative Assembly’. The rules are clear that a member who desires to resign shall intimate the same “under his own hand.” The resignation should contain only one sentence, along with the date and place: “I hereby tender my resignation of my seat in the House with effect from …” The letter shall not give any reason for the resignation.

On perusal of the resignation letters, the Speaker has found that eight of them are not in the proper format. Thus, the Speaker was well within his right under the law to direct the members to re-submit their resignations.

It is true that each day’s delay will give a window to the ruling combine to win back their legislators, but that does not mean the Speaker should give legislative procedures the go-by. Ramesh Kumar should be guided by the rule book because his ruling will not only have constitutional implications, but also set a precedent for similar situations in the future.

The Speaker cannot accept the resignations in a casual manner as the rules make it incumbent upon him to satisfy himself that they are “voluntary and genuine”. When the resignation is submitted by post or through someone else, the Speaker is required to make a “summary enquiry either by himself or through the agency of the legislative secretariat or through such other agency as he deems fit.” The Speaker is also empowered not to accept the resignation if it is not voluntary or genuine.

Fair play, natural justice

Ramesh Kumar’s decision to meet the MLAs personally and satisfy himself that they have resigned voluntarily not only meets the requirement of law but also adheres to the twin-tests of fair play and natural justice, especially in the light of allegations that the legislators have quit under duress either through coercion or by being offered huge inducements. There is also a possibility of MLAs acting on impulse and quitting. For instance, in 2010, the Andhra Pradesh Speaker had rejected the resignations of 129 MLAs who had submitted their papers on the emotive Telangana issue.

Though no time limit has been set under the rules for the Speaker to take a decision, it is expected that Ramesh Kumar, being a stickler for norms, will act within a reasonable period of time.

Even as the final decision of the Speaker is pending, Congress has threatened to initiate disqualification proceedings against the truant MLAs under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution or the anti-defection law. However, the threat of disqualification is not likely to work as the dissident MLAs have already decided to give up their membership of the House.

The Congress warning that disqualified MLAs will not be able contest elections for six years does not hold any water as there is no such provision in the Tenth Schedule. When a similar question was raised with regard to the 18 AIADMK MLAs who were disqualified by the Tamil Nadu Speaker, the Election Commission had clarified that there was no provision under the anti-defection law to debar a disqualified member from contesting the elections.

A member can be disqualified only under the Representation of People Act on conviction in specified criminal cases or for indulging in electoral malpractices. Thus, the dissident Karnataka MLAs can breathe easy.

At the moment, however, the people of the state are staring at many unanswered questions: will Kumaraswamy succeed in retaining power? Will BJP form the government? Will the state face a spell of President’s rule and mid-term elections? With a new drama unfolding each day, the answers still remain elusive.

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based political commentator)