The Supreme Court on Tuesday postponed the hearing of petitions filed by disqualified Karnataka legislators challenging former Speaker Ramesh Kumar’s decision to remove them from the Assembly under the anti-defection law, The Hindu reported.

The court said it would hear the matter on September 23 after Justice Mohan M Shantanagoudar, who is from Karnataka, recused himself saying his conscience would not allow him to hear the case. The bench, led by Justice NV Ramana, also comprises Justice Ajay Rastogi.

Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, who appeared for Ramesh Kumar, and counsel Mukul Rohatgi, who is representing the former MLAs, urged Shantanagoudar to stay on, Deccan Herald reported. However, Ramana said the judge was firm about his decision.

Kumar had disqualified three rebel Congress MLAs – R Shankar, Ramesh Jarkiholi and Mahesh Kumathahalli – on July 25 till the end of the Assembly’s term in 2023. The rest – Pratap Gouda Patil, BC Patil, Shivaram Hebbar, ST Somashekar, Byrathi Basavaraj, Anand Singh, Roshan Baig, K Sudhakar, Muniratna, MTB Nagaraj and Shrimant Patil, and Janata Dal (Secular) legislators H Vishwanath, Narayan Gowda and Gopalaiah – were disqualified for four years on July 28. The actions of these former legislators precipitated a crisis in the state, and brought down the government of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition.

The former MLAs have argued that the actions of the former Speaker were wholly arbitrary and unreasonable, and in violation of Article 14 of Constitution, which enshrines the principle of equality before law. They accused him of adopting a “pick-and-choose” policy. The former MLAs have accused Kumar of not complying with a Supreme Court order of July 11 asking him to take a call on the resignations the same day. A floor test that was supposed to be held on July 18 was unduly delayed. It finally took place on July 23, paving the way for the Bharatiya Janata Party to come to power.

“The petitioners have a fundamental right under Article 19 to carry on any trade, business and profession,” their lawyer has told the court. “Their right to resign from the post of MLA and carry on any vocation of their choice including public service cannot be denied by the respondent Speaker by a completely illegal and unconstitutional order. The action of the Speaker is thus in violation of the fundamental rights of the petitioners guaranteed under Articles 19 and 21.”

The former legislators contend that the disqualification order under the tenth schedule was not in consonance with the Rules 6 and 7 of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly (Disqualification of Members on Ground of Defection) Rules of 1986.

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