Karnataka: SC reserves judgement on plea by rebel MLAs

Supreme Court of India. (PTI Photo)

The Supreme Court on Friday reserved its judgement on pleas by 17 rebel MLAs of Congress and JDS against their disqualification by the then Speaker of Karnataka Legislative Assembly.

A bench of Justices N V Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari wrapped up the hearing on petitions after hearing arguments on behalf of senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhavan, Devadatta Kamat and K Shashi Kiran Shetty on behalf of Congress and JDS parties and senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, C A Sundaram, V Giri, A K Ganguli, Sajan Povayya, K V Vishwanathan.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the current Assembly Speaker, had offered to reconsider the matter in which the rebel MLAs contended then-Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar wrongly rejected their resignations and went on to disqualify them, stripping them of not only of their membership and disabling them to get elected again during the term 15 th Legislative Assembly.

The disqualified MLAs contended the Speaker went beyond the constitutional mandate of examining their resignation as genuine and voluntary and disqualified them against the law and the directions given by the apex court.

On Friday, senior advocate Dhavn, representing JDS, contended the Speaker has to comprehensively deal with the matter and he was not supposed to accept the resignations in a mechanical manner.

Senior advocate Sibal maintained that issues raised here were of grave importance and have never been dealt with by the court, that's why the matter should be referred to Constitution bench. “It involves a substantial question of law and will impact polity of the country,” he said.

“We are in politics. It is not an era of secrecy. In politics, we know who is going where and what is happening,” he said, adding the move by the disqualified MLAs was to bring down the government.

He also maintained the Speaker was entitled to conduct an inquiry on resignation submitted by the MLAs by going into subsequent and preceding events. “There is an Umbilical cord between genuineness and motive. He may get information prior and subsequent to conduct of the MLAs,” Sibal said.

“Genuine resignation means he doesn't want to be a member of the House and not that he wants to resign to become a minister. The Speaker has to look into circumstances and there is no bar to resign and get elected. It depends upon nature, motive and materials before the Speaker. Acceptance of resignation has to be issue-based,” he said.

“Are you saying he can't resign and join the other party? How come disqualification is extended till the term of Assembly,” the bench asked Sibal.

To this, Sibal said: If a crime is committed inside the House, Speaker alone has a right to punish. All these things happened inside the House. What happened was a Constitutional sin. We will provide impetus to such kind of things. The Speaker can't be toothless when somebody wants to bring down the government.”

He also maintained both disqualification and resignation have to be gone into simultaneously.

The bench again asked him, “If the Speaker can go into the extent of protecting the government. He is Constitutional authority. He has mentioned destabilising the government in the order on disqualification petition. The Speaker is supposed to be neutral. As a proposition of law, he can't. The proceedings has to be as per Tenth Schedule”.

Sibal said any Speaker would be put to notice as to what was going on. “Suddenly, they (the rebel MLAs) fly to Mumbai. Why had they gone to Governor first? They fly away on whose flight? All this is in public knowledge. They have not controverted these facts in disqualification proceedings.”

Kamath, also appearing for Congress leaders Siddaramaiah and D Gundu Rao, said the Speaker has no authority to condone absence during the session it is only the political party to which the MLA belongs to can make a concession. Referring to the case Shrimanth Balasaheb Patil, the counsel said he left the session midway. He made no application to the party for leave.

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