Madras high court divided over fate of 18 rebel AIADMK MLAs, third judge will take a call
A two-judge bench of the Madras high court delivered a split verdict on Thursday on petitions challenging the disqualification of 18 dissident All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) legislators.
The judgment ensures the government, which enjoys a slender majority of eight seats in an assembly with effective strength of 216, will not face a floor test soon.
The case will now go to a third judge, who will be picked by the third-most senior judge available, thereby also effectively delaying any bypolls for the vacant seats.
A bench of chief justice Indira Banerjee and justice M Sundar delivered divergent verdicts on whether the 18 MLAs deserved to be disqualified under the anti-defection law by speaker P Dhanapal on September 18 last year for approaching the governor and seeking the removal of chief minister EK Palaniswami. The MLAs supported TTV Dhinakaran, nephew of former chief minister Jayalalithaa’s aide Sasikala.
Sasikala was at that time locked in a power battle with Palaniswami and deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam.
Justice Banerjee said the court will not intervene in the speaker’s order but Justice Sundar struck down the order, saying it was against the natural law of justice and a violation of constitutional mandate.
“Since there has been disagreement between the two of us, the writ petitions, (should) be referred to a third judge. The difference of opinion being between Chief Justice and Justice Sundar, CJ is of view that it would not be appropriate for the CJ to nominate the third judge. The writ petitions, (therefore) be referred to the next senior most judge available for nomination of a third judge,” the order read.
The verdict is a boost for Palaniswami as the restoration of the membership of the MLAs would have brought his government uncomfortably close to the halfway mark in a house where the opposition -- Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Congress and Indian Union Muslim League -- has 98 MLAs.
Dhinakaran now heads a splinter AIADMK group called Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam and is the only MLA from the outfit.
If the membership of the 18 MLAs had been restored, the combined opposition strength would have been 117, one less than the majority mark in the 234-member assembly.
“We believe in judiciary and we will approach the third judge based on the principles of justice,” advocate Raja Senthurpandian, counsel for some of the disqualified MLAs, said.
AIADMK advocate Babu Murugavel also said, “It’s a split verdict and we will appeal before the third judge as per the high court order.”
Dhinakaran called the judgment unexpected. “The verdict is definitely not a setback for us, but a defeat for TN public. Our next course of action will be based on the discussion with 18 disqualified MLAs, who are still with us.”
Leader of Opposition and DMK working president MK Stalin hoped that the court won’t take up more time in the case. “Justice delayed is justice denied”
Bharatiya Janata Party state president Tamilisai Soundararajan said, “The verdict neither extends any favour nor offers