The Supreme Court will pass an order on the resignation of rebel MLAs from Karnataka at 10.30 am on Wednesday, Bar and Bench reported.
Karnataka Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that he would decide on the disqualification and resignation of 15 rebel MLAs of the ruling coalition by Wednesday, and requested it to modify its earlier order directing him to maintain status quo on the matter, PTI reported.
Sixteen MLAs of the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) have submitted their resignations since July 1, plunging the state into a political crisis. The two parties have argued that the legislators stepped down to avoid disqualification proceedings.
Kumar’s counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi said resignation cannot be an escape route to avoid disqualification. The legislators have moved the top court against Kumar’s delay in accepting their resignations. “Suppose there is a floor test tomorrow and an MLA wants to resign today which will lead to government falling,” he told the judges. “That resignation is itself disqualification, since it is against party’s interests.”
Lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, who represented the legislators, told the court that the ruling coalition was planning to get the MLAs disqualified by issuing them a new whip during Thursday’s trust vote in the state Assembly, Live Law reported. “The fallacy of their argument is that it is based on my [the MLAs’] motive to resign, which is completely irrelevant,” he said.
Rohatgi said one of the legislators who received a disqualification notice – Umesh Jadhav – had resigned on March 20, Live Law reported. “The Speaker had accepted his resignation,” he added. “Therefore, Speaker himself has in past accepted resignations from MLAs facing disqualification notice.”
Rohatgi said he was not arguing for quashing disqualification proceedings. “Disqualification can go on,” he added. “I am saying ‘I don’t want to be an MLA, I do not want to defect, I want to go back to public and do whatever I want to do’.
The lawyer questioned the grounds for disqualification. “That is why it has been pending for so long,” he added. “And my case is even if there are disqualification proceedings, that cannot be a bar for resignation. This is nothing but an attempt to stutter the resignations.”
Rohatgi said there could be many reasons for resignation. “Unless it is involuntary, Speaker cannot keep it pending,” he added. “In this case, Speaker says reason for resignation is to avoid disqualification. That does not mean it is involuntary. Hence, he cannot keep it pending.”
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said the court cannot say how the Speaker should decide on the resignations or disqualification of the MLAs. “The question is whether there is any constitutional obligation for him to decide resignation before disqualification,” he said. To this, Rohatgi responded that the Kerala High Court had allowed PC George to resign even when disqualification proceedings were pending against him, Live Law reported.
When the court asked the lawyer what order he was seeking, Rohatgi said: “The order which Your Lordships passed on the first day, asking Speaker to decide within a time frame. He referred to the court’s May 2018 order ordering a floor test to be conducted in Karnataka Assembly within a day to allow Bharatiya Janata Party leader BS Yeddyurappa to prove his majority. “So court can issue order prescribing time frame to Speaker,” the lawyer added
Rajeev Dhavan, who argued on behalf of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, said the rebel MLAs flew to Mumbai when they could have met the Speaker, reported Bar and Bench. “They are hunting in pack,” Dhavan told the court. “They [MLAs] have clearly said once resignations are accepted they will later become ministers,” Dhavan said. “So that motive is what Speaker has to go into.”
Dhavan said the Supreme Court had no powers to interfere with the Speaker’s decision-making process. “The court exceeded its jurisdiction by directing the Speaker on July 11 to take a decision on resignations,” he said, according to Live Law.
Dhavan said the Supreme Court should not entertain such a petition under Article 32 of Constitution unless a fundamental right is involved. “Speaker has to take notice of the fact that 15 MLAs are hunting in pack,” he said, according to Bar and Bench.
Dhavan said judicial review cannot be exercised before the Speaker has taken a decision. “This court can interfere only after the decision is made and not before that,” Live Law quoted Dhavan as saying.
Dhavan said the intent is to defeat the coalition government “by luring numbers before budget”, reported Bar and Bench. “Political thicket doctrine does not say to Your Lordships “we can enter any political thicket we like”,” he said. “Let all these MLAs be present on Thursday for the trust vote,” Live Law quoted him.
Rohatgi, who represented the MLAs, countered the Speaker’s argument that fundamental right was not violated. “My right to resign and do what I want is being violated,” Rohatgi said. “Constitutional rules mandate Speaker to decide immediately provided it is genuine and voluntary. Speaker has no mandate under Constitution to go into my mind to find out why I have resigned.”
Rohatgi said the government has lost majority and the “Speaker only wants to prop up a government which is in minority”, Bar and Bench reported.
On Friday, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy had offered to move a confidence motion to prove that his coalition government has the numbers to stay in power. The ruling alliance will try to win over the rebel legislators till then. If the MLAs do not return to their parties before the trust vote, the government will have the support of at least 100 MLAs, while the Bharatiya Janata Party will have the support of at least 107 MLAs. With a reduced size of 209, the majority mark will drop to 105.
Initially, 10 MLAs from the ruling parties – Pratap Gouda Patil, Ramesh Jarkiholi, Byrathi Basavaraj, BC Patil, ST Somasekhar, AS Hebbar, Mahesh Kumathalli, K Gopalaiah, HD Vishwanath and Narayan Gowda – filed the petition in the top court. On July 11, the court asked the MLAs to meet Kumar and instructed the Speaker to take a decision by the end of the day. However, Kumar said he needed time to scrutinise and get clarity on the resignation letters before accepting them.
The following day, the court ordered status quo on the resignations till it decides larger constitutional questions in the matter, primarily whether a court can issue directions to the Speaker. Five more rebel Congress MLAs – K Sudhakar, Roshan Baig, MTB Nagaraj, Muniratna, and Anand Singh – moved the court on July 13. The bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said it would hear their plea along with the pending petition of the 10 MLAs.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has said it is ready for the floor test and has called for Kumaraswamy to resign. BJP state chief BS Yeddyurappa on Monday said he was confident of forming the government in the next four to five days.