Speaker’s duty: check resignations

Speaker’s duty: check resignations

With several MLAs resigning, the strength of the Karnataka Assembly might go down to 208 from 224, and the BJP will probably be able to form the government. But all depends on the Speaker’s nod to the resignations. The Constitution commands the Speaker to examine whether a resignation was by free will. Two questions arise: Is there any duty on the legislator not to resign? Whether Speaker has a duty not to accept resignations?

Duty not to resign

A person elected to any House has a duty not to throw away his seat at the drop of a hat. He must serve the constituency for five years, representing it in the legislature, though he is free to relinquish it. He may not give reasons, but his resignation must be genuine and at his free will so that others cannot play games or plan manipulations with the process of governance, unnecessarily nullifying the election and burdening the machinery to conduct another election.

No political party or any other agency can induce, force or blackmail any legislator to resign to help serve the political interests of any party. Several studies and reports have recommended a full term for coalition governments for stability in governance. People have a legitimate expectation from legislators and governments.

The Constitution refers to the possibility of resignation by an MLA in Article 190 under the title ‘vacation of seat’. The Constitution allows a legislator to resign. Article 190(3)(b) says the seat will become vacant if he “..resigns his seat by writing under his hand addressed to the Speaker…, and his resignation is accepted by the Speaker...”

The proviso in this Article imposes a duty on the Speaker, saying: “Provided that in the case of any resignation referred to in sub-clause (b), if from information received or otherwise and after making such inquiry as he thinks fit, the Speaker…, is satisfied that such resignation is not voluntary and genuine, he shall not accept such resignation.”

The requirements are: the resignation should (a) be in writing, (b) under his (legislator’s) own hand (c) addressed to Speaker or Chairman and (d) have been accepted by the Speaker or Chairman. Article 190 imposed a duty on the Speaker: (a) to conduct an inquiry, (b) decide the process of inquiry as he thinks fit, (c) to be satisfied that such resignation is voluntary and genuine.

Speaker’s duty

Karnataka Speaker Ramesh Kumar must satisfy himself through an inquiry, the method of which he has the authority to devise, whether members have genuinely resigned. He must examine factors like the heavy pressure on some legislators after the JD(S)-Congress coalition’s debacle in the Lok Sabha polls, allegations of tempting inducements, the MLAs’ stay in five-star hotels, special chartered flights and luxury buses, who is bearing all that expenditure, etc., to decide the genuineness of their resignations.

The very fact that they are in a custodial camp might be an indication that somebody is interested in keeping them out of reach from their own party leaders and has a vested interest in their ‘dissent’ or ‘rebellion’.

The statements of the legislators and other leaders must also be taken into account. A seven-time MLA says he was neglected on some issues; another legislator says the coalition did not meet his expectations; former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa says, “Now, we’re 105+2=107…Let us wait and see”; another BJP functionary says “more legislators are likely to join and all will leave for Goa”. These statements show the ‘interests’ behind the resignations.

Media reports show that some legislators met the Karnataka Governor, handed over letters of resignation and made individual statements expressing dissent against the coalition government or some leader’s behaviour.

They travelled together or in small groups, and their travel by luxury bus and chartered flights were facilitated. They were made to stay in a luxury hotel in Mumbai, and were not allowed to contact others, and others from their parties were prevented from talking to them. For instance, Congress leader D K Shivakumar was detained by Maharashtra police when he tried to enter the hotel where his ‘rebel’ colleagues were put up.

Anti-Congress political groups consider that the Karnataka coalition government has lost legitimacy and thus there is nothing wrong in pulling down the government by engineering defections or inducing legislators to resign. As interpreted by the Supreme Court in the S R Bommai case, once the Assembly is elected, it has constitutional legitimacy to serve the full term. Thus, despite the JD(S)-Congress’ debacle in the Lok Sabha polls, it is not proper to induce or engineer resignations and defections to pull down the coalition government.

If any MLA or MP resigns or defects, leading to disqualification and vacation of a seat, a new legislative provision should be made to recover the entire cost of elections plus a lumpsum amount to penalise the disturbance caused by his resignation, from him or from the party behind him.

(The writer is a former Central Information Commissioner and currently Professor of Constitutional Law at Bennett University)