Refusing to be dragged into the controversy over speakers’ power to disqualify MPs and MLAs under the anti-defection law, the Supreme Court on Monday said it was for Parliament to examine if such power should vest in the Election Commission or any other body.
“Whether to vest such power in the speaker or Election Commission or any other institution is not for us to decide. It is only for Parliament to decide,” a Bench headed by Chief Justice YK Sabharwal said upholding Haryana speaker’s decision to disqualify six MLAs under the anti-defection law just before the June 2004 Rajya Sabha elections.
Interestingly, the speaker had chosen not to respond to the court’s notice in the matter and the petitioners had contended that an adverse inference should be drawn and his orders should be set aside as the allegations in the petitions remained un-rebutted.But the Bench rejected the plea saying, “there is no general rule that adverse inference must always be drawn, whatever the facts and circumstances may be.”
The court noted that in view of the recent events, certain questions have been raised about the impartiality of the institution of speaker and that if not checked, it may ultimately affect the high office.
The Bench, also comprising Justice CK Thakker and PK Balasubramanyan said it has noted this aspect so that Parliament, if deemed appropriate, may examine it and bestow its wise consideration having regard to the past experience and take such recourse as it may deem necessary under the circumstances.
Comparing the proceedings before the speaker under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution (anti-defection law) as those of a Tribunal, the court said the scope of judicial review in such proceedings was very limited.
The court, however, added that “howsoever, limited may be the field of judicial review, the principles of natural justice have to be complied with and in their absence, the orders would stand vitiated.” If the speaker acts in a reasonable manner, the court would decline to strike down his orders, it added.
The petitioners had drawn the court’s attention to the Constitution Review Commission’s recommendation that the power to disqualify MPs and MLAs should vest in Election Commission and not the speaker.
Describing speaker as “the very embodiment of propriety and impartiality” the Bench said “speaker enjoys a very high status and position of great respect and esteem in the parliamentary traditions.”
The Bench pointed out that it was due to the confidence in the impartiality of the speaker that the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the Tenth Schedule in Kihoto Hollohan’s case.
The MLAs whose disqualification has been upheld by the court are - Jagjit Singh, Bhim Sain Mehta, Dev Raj Dewan, Karan Singh Dalal, Jai Prakash and Rajinder Singh Bisla.
Jagjit Singh was the lone NCP member in the state assembly formed Democratic Dal of Haryana and then merged with Congress.
Dalal, elected on the ticket of Republican Party of India too had joined Congress. Dewan, an independent MLA, was supporting the National Lok Dal Government but in June 2004 withdrew the support and went in Congress’ favour. The rest three independent MLAs were disqualified on similar grounds.
They had accused the Haryana Assembly speaker of mala fides and acting in violation of the principles of natural justice.
However, rejecting their contention the court noted that the MLAs had been avoiding appearing before the speaker and trying to delay the proceedings by seeking adjournments. It also took note of the fact that they wanted to delay the proceedings beyond the June 2004 Rajya Sabha elections.
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