Karnataka Assembly Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri’s office told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that a lawmaker’s right to resignation is a “democratic right”, PTI reported. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the office, told the top court that it was high time the judiciary laid down guidelines for Speakers.
Mehta told a three-judge bench led by Justice NV Ramana that an MLA can be disqualified if he gives up the membership of a political party, but not if he quits the membership of the Legislative Assembly. This was a reference to former Karnataka Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar’s disqualification of 17 MLAs of the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) for giving up the membership of the House in July, leading to the collapse of the then government.
The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government in Karnataka lost a trust vote in the Assembly in July, while most of the rebel legislators were hiding in a Mumbai hotel. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which won the trust vote 105-99, formed a government with BS Yediyurappa as the chief minister.
The disqualified lawmakers had earlier approached the Supreme Court against their disqualification.
“Probably, this may happen frequently and travel beyond these 17 persons,” Mehta told the court. “Right to resign is a right recognised by this court in a Constitution bench verdict.” The advocate told the court that MLAs resign from the Assembly because they want to “go back to the electorate”.
“I cannot be critical of what has happened in the past in this case but it may happen very frequently and the issue needs to be adjudicated,” Mehta added. “It’s high time that the judiciary lay down guidelines for the Speaker. Loyalty to the party is one thing but you [a legislator] cannot be bound by the party’s whip.” Mehta said that the three days’ notice Kumar gave to the rebel lawmakers to respond to the disqualification motion was “factually incorrect”.
However, the court refused to lay down any such guidelines. The bench said: “How can we lay down guidelines for the speaker? He is a constitutional authority. We cannot encroach in his domain.”
Karnataka bye-polls should be stayed, Supreme Court told
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for some of the disqualified MLAs, said there is no rule that the disqualification has to be decided first and resignation kept pending. “We do not want to go to the electorate with this taint of disqualification,” Rohatgi said on behalf of the MLAs. The upcoming bye-polls to 15 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka should be stayed or deferred till the top court announces its verdict in the case, the advocate said. The bye-elections will be held on October 21, and results announced on October 24.
Senior advocate CA Sundaram, appearing for one of the disqualified MLAs, told the top court that it is “not a sin to leave a party”, as the basis of democracy is dissent. “My [petitioner’s] resignation was as a member of the House, not as a member of the party,” he said. “Sin is joining another political party when I am an MLA of another party. The Speaker is the master of the House, not the president of a party.”
Senior advocate KV Vishwanathan, representing one of the petitioners, said the former Speaker’s whip to the lawmakers to attend the House or face disqualification was in violation of Supreme Court orders. The top court had said that the MLAs cannot be forced to attend the House during the trust vote proceedings.
The Election Commission had on September 23 told the Supreme Court that Kumar’s order disqualifying the legislators cannot deprive them of their right to contest bye-elections. The poll panel had added that bye-elections should not be stayed.
Arguments in the disqualification case were inconclusive on Wednesday, and will resume on Thursday.
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