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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

Can’t compel 15 rebels to attend Karnataka House: SC

Experts said the ruling weakens the provisions of the anti-defection law and that this could have ramifications far beyond the ongoing political controversy in Karnataka.

india Updated: Jul 18, 2019 00:14 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, NEW DELHI/BENGALURU
The Supreme Court, however, gave speaker KR Ramesh Kumar the discretion of deciding on the resignations offered by the rebel MLAs — and their potential disqualification — in a time frame of his choosing.
The Supreme Court, however, gave speaker KR Ramesh Kumar the discretion of deciding on the resignations offered by the rebel MLAs — and their potential disqualification — in a time frame of his choosing.(HT Photo)
         

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that 15 rebel MLAs of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance in Karnataka cannot be compelled to attend assembly proceedings, delivering an interim verdict that dealt a potential knockout blow to the already wobbling, 15-month-old coalition government.

Experts said the ruling weakens the provisions of the anti-defection law and that this could have ramifications far beyond the ongoing political controversy in Karnataka.

The Supreme Court, however, gave speaker KR Ramesh Kumar the discretion of deciding on the resignations offered by the rebel MLAs — and their potential disqualification — in a time frame of his choosing.

The ruling came on the eve of a decisive trust vote that chief minister HD Kumaraswamy faces on the floor of the assembly. Some party leaders said it was a case of judicial overreach.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said it was a “moral victory” for the rebels and urged Kumaraswamy to resign.

“Until further orders, the 15 members of the assembly ought not to be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the ongoing session of the House and an option should be given to them that they can take part in the said proceedings or to opt to remain

out of the same,” the bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose ruled.

The 15 MLAs — among 16 Congress-JD(S) rebels who have resigned from the assembly — approached the apex court to direct the speaker to accept their resignations. If the resignations are accepted or if the legislators are disqualified under the anti-defection law, it would bring the strength of the 225-member assembly (one nominated MLA is allowed to participate in a trust vote) down to 209 and reduce the coalition to 101 seats in the House, excluding the speaker, who cannot vote except in a tie.

The BJP’s strength would be 105, and it is expected to be backed by one independent who has withdrawn support to the coalition. However, in the case of MLA R Shankar, who had agreed to merge his Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janata Paksha with the Congress last month, the party has moved a disqualification petition based on a letter he submitted to the governor on July 8 expressing his wish to support the BJP.

Both the ruling dispensation and the Opposition have issued party whips to their legislators to attend assembly proceedings.

In its three-page interim order, the bench said: “In these circumstances, the competing claims have to be balanced by an appropriate interim order, which according to us, should be to permit the speaker of the House to decide on the request for resignations by the 15 members of the House within such time-frame as the speaker may consider appropriate.”

The order added: “Until further orders, the 15 members of the Assembly, ought not to be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the ongoing session of the House and an option should be given to them that they can take part in the said proceedings or to opt to remain out of the same.” Congress media incharge and spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, in a series of tweets, wrote: “Supreme Court’s order nullifying the Whip and by extension, operation of Constitution’s Xth Schedule to punish MLAs betraying the public mandate, sets a terrible judicial precedent! Blanket protection to MLA’s, who are driven not by ideology but by far baser concerns, is unheard-of.”

Former chief minister Siddaramaiah, in a tweet, said the ruling was “judicial overreach at its worst to aid defection orchestrated by @BJP4India.”

“The judgement laid down today is a paradox to itself. It gives speaker his power but snatches from the political parties making the former redundant,” he wrote.

Karnataka BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa said the Supreme Court ruling was a “victory of Constitution and democracy”.

“Karnataka CM has lost his mandate, when there is no majority he must resign tomorrow. I welcome Supreme Court’s decision, it’s the victory of constitution and democracy, a moral victory for rebel MLAs,” Yeddyurappa was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

Chief minister Kumaraswamy refused to comment.

Speaker Ramesh Kumar welcomed the ruling. “With utmost humility I welcome and respect the Supreme Court decision,” Ramesh Kumar said in Kolar, his home town. “I will conduct myself responsibly in accordance with constitutional principles.”

Kumar likened his role to that of an umpire in a game of cricket.

The Congress’s main troubleshooters in the case, DK Shivakumar, warned the rebels of disqualification proceedings against them under the anti-defection law if they did not obey the party whip. The law requires at least two-thirds of a party’s MLAs to break away to be recognised as a separate group in the legislature. “Some BJP friends are trying to misguide that the whip is not valid. But the party can issue a whip and take the necessary action as per anti-defection law,” he said.

The rebels said there was no question of them reneging on their resignations.

“We are happy with the decision of the honourable Supreme Court, we honour it,” rebel Congress MLA BC Patil said in a video released to the media. Flanked by 11 other Congress-JD(S) MLAs who have quit, he said: “We stand by our decision. No question of going to assembly.”

First Published: Jul 18, 2019 00:12 IST