Rajasthan Congress goes to SC on disqualification, shifts MLAs
Mahesh Joshi, the chief whip of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) in the Rajasthan assembly, approached the Supreme Court on Friday, challenging the high court’s July 24 order that virtually put a freeze on disqualification proceedings against now-dismissed deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and 18 other rebel Congress legislators backing him.
Joshi told the apex court that by ordering “status quo” on disqualification proceedings, the HC has granted full relief, beyond what was sought for by the Pilot camp.
The Pilot camp had questioned in the HC a July 14 notice issued by the speaker seeking their response to disqualification pleas sent to them, and claimed that CP Joshi did not grant them sufficient time to respond.
“The consequence of the grant of status quo order (by the HC) is that the Respondents have secured relief over and above their original grievance that the Speaker did not give them seven days’ time,” said the special leave petition (SLP) settled by senior advocate Devdatt Kamat.
Joshi’s appeal further said the division bench of the HC had no jurisdiction to hear the case as the Pilot camp challenged the validity of para 2(1)(a) of the 10th Schedule, which has been decided upon by a Constitution bench of the apex court in the 1992 Kihoto Hollohan case. Such a matter has to be decided by at least a five-judge bench of the apex court, it added.
The move came just two days after assembly Speaker CP Joshi moved a petition in the top court against the July 24 order of the Rajasthan HC.
The Pilot camp moved the HC on July 15, challenging the disqualification notices. And on July 22, the speaker filed a special leave petition in the top court, challenging the HC’s July 21 order to defer disqualification proceedings.
On July 23, the Supreme Court turned down the speaker’s request for a stay on that order and said it will hear the larger question of whether or not courts can interfere with disqualification proceedings initiated by an assembly speaker against lawmakers even before a decision has been taken.
The top court’s refusal to grant stay paved the way for the high court to pronounce its order on July 24. The HC will now examine in detail the legal issues involved and the petition is unlikely to come up for hearing anytime soon.
Following this, the speaker on Monday withdrew his plea before the top court that challenged the HC’s July 21 order directing him to defer action on the disqualification notices. Then on Wednesday, he moved the top court again, challenging the July 24 order.
The speaker submitted that the HC order is in violation of legal principles laid down by the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in Kihoto Hollohan v. Zachillhu as per which courts cannot interfere with the speaker’s powers to decide a disqualification petition till he gives a final decision on such a disqualification plea.
The legal battle began after the Congress chief whip filed a complaint before the speaker on July 14, seeking action against Pilot and the other dissidents under paragraph 2 (1) (a) of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution. The provision disqualifies MLAs if they “voluntarily” give up the membership of the party which they represent in the House.
The rebel camp said Pilot never indicated any intention to leave the Congress party. In their petition filed in the HC, Pilot and the other MLAs submitted that were merely exercising their right to criticise party leadership and the functioning of the chief minister.
The Pilot camp also challenged the validity of paragraph 2(1) (a) of the 10th Schedule, contending that the provision was very wide since even expression of opinion or views against party leadership are construed as defection.