The Supreme Court directed on Wednesday that the 15 rebel Congress and Janata Dal-Secular MLAs “ought not” to be compelled to take part in the proceedings of the Karnataka assembly, which is slated to decide the confidence motion moved by the H D Kumaraswamy-led state government on Thursday.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi further said Karnataka assembly speaker K R Ramesh Kumar was free to decide on the resignations of the rebel legislators within such time-frame as deemed appropriate by him.
The court also said the speaker’s decision be put before it.
The bench, also comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, said the speaker’s discretion in taking a decision on the resignation of the 15 MLAs should not be fettered by the court’s directions or observations and he should be free to decide the issue.
The bench, while pronouncing the order, said it was necessary to maintain the constitutional balance in the matter.
The court said other issues raised in the matter would be decided at a later stage.
The top court had, on Tuesday, heard all the parties, during which Kumaraswamy and the speaker questioned its jurisdiction on entertaining the rebel MLAs, who alleged that they were being forced to act in a particular manner so as to save the coalition government in Karnataka that had lost majority.
Kumaraswamy and Kumar had contended that the court could not enter into the speaker’s domain by asking him to first decide on the resignation of the MLAs and thereafter, the applications seeking their disqualification.
However, the court had said it had given a “very high status” to the speaker while interpreting the anti-defection law decades ago and “probably that needs a re-look after so many years”.
It had indicated that since there were rival submissions on the issue of resignation and disqualification of the MLAs, the court “will do the required balancing”.
The court had also questioned the speaker’s contention that the issue of disqualification had to be decided first by asking him what was he doing till July 10 when the MLAs had resigned on July 6 itself.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Kumaraswamy, had said the rebel MLAs were “hunting in a pack” and the speaker could not “turn a blind eye” to it since their motive was to bring down the government.
“This is not the speaker versus the court. This is between the chief minister and somebody who wants to become the chief minister and bring down this government,” he had said, while urging the court to vacate its two interim orders asking the speaker to take a decision on the resignations and maintain a status quo.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the rebel MLAs, had said the speaker was acting in a “partisan” and “mala fide” manner by not accepting the resignations of the lawmakers and had “frustrated” their fundamental right to resign.
He had said according to constitutional rules, the speaker had to take an “immediate” decision on resignations and by not doing so, he was “flouting the rules”.
“Here is a government which has lost majority in the House and here is a speaker who wants to prop this government,” Rohatgi had said, adding that resignation was different from disqualification proceedings, which were akin to a time taking “mini trial”.
He had said the whole design not to accept the resignations and keeping the disqualification issue pending was for the ruling coalition to issue a whip to the MLAs to act in a particular manner when the confidence motion was put to vote on Thursday as any contrary action would invite disqualification.
Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for the speaker, had said the disqualification pleas against the MLAs were filed prior to their resignations on July 11, when they physically appeared before the speaker.
“It is a common ground that 11 of these 15 MLAs handed over their resignations physically to the speaker on July 11,” he had said, adding, “Resignation cannot be a ground to frustrate the disqualification proceedings.”
Singhvi had contended that the apex court did not have the jurisdiction to ask the speaker to act in a particular manner or to decide the issue of resignation in a time-bound manner.
He had also submitted that the speaker could decide both the issues — disqualification and resignation — if asked, by Wednesday.
Wednesday’s hearing concluded after Rohatgi asked the bench to pass a direction to continue with its interim order directing the speaker to maintain status quo on the issue of resignation and disqualification of the MLAs.
He had also asked the bench that if the House assembled for business, whether the 15 rebel MLAs would be exempted from appearing on the basis of the ruling coalition’s whip.
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