The Uttarakhand high court on Monday dismissed a writ petition challenging the disqualification of nine Congress rebel MLAs on the grounds that their conduct showed they had “voluntarily given up” party membership.
The order, delivered by a single judge bench of Justice UC Dhyani, may prevent the rebel Congress MLAs from casting their votes during the floor test on May 10. Now, former chief minister Harish Rawat’s chances of winning the trust vote hinges on what the Supreme Court decides on the rebel MLAs’ appeal – to be taken up at 2 pm.
Soon after the judgment was delivered, Rajeshwar Singh – counsel for the rebel Congress MLAs – said they would approach the apex court to demand a stay on the order.
The 57-page judgment delivered by Justice UC Dhyani said the petitions were dismissed because the speaker’s order had not violated the principles of natural justice – as alleged by the rebel MLAs. Referring to the petitioner’s contention that they were not given sufficient time to respond to speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal’s order, the court observed: “It is apparent from the documents on record that though the speaker did not grant the petitioners an opportunity to their liking, it cannot be termed as an insufficient opportunity.”
Commenting on Kunjwal’s role in the matter, the court said that a judicial or quasi-judicial authority cannot be a mute spectator in such a situation – he is expected to regulate and control the proceedings. The court rejected the argument that the speaker had passed the impugned order in undue haste to meet the deadline for the vote of confidence in the assembly.
“There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied, but on the other hand, justice hurried is justice buried. A quasi-judicial authority is expected to keep a balance between the two. The court does not find from the documents on record that the speaker passed the impugned order in undue haste,” the judge wrote in his order.
Justice Dhyani said that the “pendulum (of justice) had swung from one pole to another” during the course of the arguments. “The petitioners were victim of their own actions, not knowing that it had taken them so far. But they should not forget that they are responsible lawmakers,” he said.
The court held that the petitioners deserved to be disqualified under Paragraph 2 (1) (a) of the tenth schedule of the constitution. It said that the rebel MLAs had established by their conduct that they have “voluntarily given up membership” of the Congress even if they did not join any other political party.
Justice Dhyani, however, held that the petitioners were free to look at other legal options. “As it is a matter of survival for the petitioners (rebel Congress MLAs), they deserve yet another opportunity if it is available to them in law,” he said.
The single judge bench of Justice Dhyani had ordered on March 29 that the floor test in the Uttarakhand assembly be held two days later, and while the rebel MLAs can also exercise their franchise, their votes should be kept in sealed envelopes.
A double bench of the high court later stayed the order.
Kunjwal had disqualified nine Congress rebel MLAs on March 27 for indulging in anti-party activities by standing with BJP legislators on the Appropriation Bill. Eight of them, barring Vijay Bahuguna, moved the high court challenging the decision.