The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the decision of then Karnataka Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar to disqualify the 17 ruling coalition MLAs who had rebelled against the HD Kumaraswamy government in July, Live Law reported.

However, the court struck down Kumar’s order barring the rebel MLAs from contesting elections until the end of the term of the current Assembly. Bye-polls will be held in 15 of the 17 seats on December 5.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice NV Ramana said that if elected in bye-polls, the former MLAs can hold public office again, PTI reported. However, the bench expressed displeasure at the manner in which the rebel MLAs directly approached the Supreme Court without first moving the High Court.

The court said the Speaker does not have the power to decide how long to disqualify an MLA. The court also observed that there is a growing trend of Speakers acting against the Constitutional mandate, leading to citizens being denied stable governments.

The top court added that having a “stricter model” of disqualification for lawmakers who defy the party line will have a chilling effect on legitimate dissent and it cannot be accepted, PTI reported. “In any case, such a change in the policy cannot be looked into by this court, as the same squarely falls within the legislative forte,” the court said. “Any attempt to interfere is better termed as reconstruction, which falls beyond the scope of legal interpretation by the courts.”

The Karnataka Congress Party had demanded that the court should consider a stricter model of disqualification, wherein a person who jumps party lines should be punished with severe penal consequences for his action.

The rebel MLAs, who were elected on Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) tickets, had resigned from the Assembly in July, but Kumar had rejected their resignations. However, they did not return to their parties before the trust vote, leading to the collapse of the coalition government. The Bharatiya Janata Party then came to power with BS Yediyurappa as the chief minister.

Kumar had disqualified the rebels from the Assembly and then resigned from the Speaker’s post. He had issued the order on the ground that their resignations were not voluntary and amounted to defection.

The former MLAs had moved the top court to challenge their disqualification and to be allowed to contest bye-elections for their seats in December. A bench comprising Justices NV Ramana, Sanjeev Khanna and Krishna Murari had reserved its judgement last month.

Ex-Speaker expresses ‘sigh of relief’

Meanwhile, KR Ramesh Kumar expressed relief at the Supreme Court’s verdict, PTI reported. “Supreme Court has upheld the disqualification – to that extent, it’s a sigh of relief,” Kumar told reporters. “On the issue of tenure [of disqualification], Supreme Court has not agreed to my interpretation. I will speak on that after going through the text of the judgement.”

Kumar also told reporters that he had made his decision to disqualify the MLAs based on the Tenth Schedule to the Indian Constitution, which outlines the provisions for disqualification on grounds of defection. Kumar also claimed he had considered political and constitutional morality while making the decision.