The Supreme Court hearing the petition of the rebel Congress-JDS MLAs in Karnataka decided to pronounce its orders at 10.30 PM on Wednesday, July 17.
A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi along with Justice Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose was hearing a petition of 15 Congress-JDS rebel MLAs against the Speaker’s decision to not accept their resignation.
On Friday, the court had ordered the speaker to maintain the status quo with regard to resignation and disqualification of 10 rebel MLAs. The top court on Thursday had directed the Karnataka Speaker to take a decision on the resignations submitted by the disgruntled Congress-JD(S) MLAs.
However, Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar had told the court that he would need time to examine the resignation letters of the dissidents and determine whether they were coerced or the resignations were voluntary.
Today, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for the rebel MLAs of the Congress-JDS coalition said five more legislators have given resignation to the speaker, but the speaker is not accepting it. “Incompetent proceedings are inappropriate,” said Rohatgi.
The five legislators – Anand Singh, K Sudhakar, N Nagaraj, Munirathna and Roshan Baig filed a petition before a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta on Monday. The apex court heard the petition of these five more lawmakers who sought a similar relief like the ten other rebel MLAs.
Mukul Rohatgi added that all the ten petitioners had given their resignations on July 10, and notice for disqualification proceedings was issued only against two of them as on that date.
“The role of the Speaker under Article 190 and 10th Schedule of Constitution is different. Therefore, the pendency of disqualification proceedings is not a bar to accept resignations,” he added.
Citing former Congress MLA Umesh Jadhav’s case, Rohatgi said that resignation was accepted notwithstanding disqualification proceedings, so Speaker did not consider it a bar then. Rohatgi said that he was not asking the court to quash the disqualification proceedings but he said he was against infringing of rights of legislators.
“Disqualification can go on. I am saying I don’t want to be an MLA. I don’t want to defect. I want to go back to the public and do whatever I want to do. It is my right to do what I want to do. Speaker is infringing that right of mine,” argued Mukul Rohatgi.
Rohtagi further added that the decision of a Speaker is to look into whether a legislator is being forced to resign is supposed to be beneficial to the legislator. The role of the Speaker is to make sure he is not being forced. The silence of the Speaker on resignations is deemed sanction said Rohtagi.
“The speaker is coercing me to continue, to sit and speak in a particular group of which I don’t want to be a part of,” said senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi.
Senior Advocate Rohtagi stated that the resignation does not require any inquiry unless the Speaker has credible material that there is coercion. Legislators are not bureaucrats or public servants that they have to give reasons for resignation, he added.
“Art. 190 says if the resignation is by hand and there is no other material, the Speaker has to take a decision as fast as possible. He cannot keep it pending,” Rohatgi.
“These people are before Supreme Court saying they have resigned, crying before TV they have resigned. And yet this is allowed to continue, this is ridiculous. In this case, the Speaker says the reason for resignation is to avoid disqualification. That does not mean it is involuntary. Hence, he cannot keep it pending,” argued Rohatgi.
Senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing on behalf of the Karnataka speaker said that resignation cannot be an escape route to disqualification proceedings. If trust vote is a day after and a legislator resigns against the interest of the party, he can be subjected to disqualification proceedings, said Singhvi.
“The act of disqualification is the act of defiance of the whip,” said Singhvi.
Singhvi said that the first step to start inquiry under Article 190 is for concerned MLA to appear before Speaker in person and the rebel MLAs met the speaker only on July 11. Singhvi claimed that eleven of the 15 MLAs handed over resignations personally to Speaker only on July 11 and four of the MLAs are yet to do so.
The CJI questioned Singhvi’s claim asking on Speaker’s unavailability for an appointment which led to MLAs filing a petition in the top court. However, Singhvi claimed that it was factually wrong and Speaker has filed an affidavit to that effect that an appointment was not sought.
Chief Justice of India asked the Speaker to decide on the resignations in one week and then decide on the disqualifications.
Singhvi said that the court cannot direct the Speaker to take a decision to order Speaker to decide on resignations. “The Speaker has sought time to decide. According to Karnataka assembly rules, the resignation has to be in person. Disqualification and resignation cannot be unscrambled. Have to be decided by a common order,” Mr Singhvi said.
However, the bench said, “You cannot question our jurisdictional powers when we, to your benefit, had ordered a floor test, appointed a pro-tem Speaker in a midnight hearing. The exercise of jurisdiction of our powers depends only on self-restraint. Are you trying to restrict the power of the Supreme Court.”
Singhvi maintained that there is a direct link between the resignations and disqualification proceedings in this case and asked the bench to look at it independently. Singhvi reiterated that all resignations happened only on July 11 and all disqualification proceedings pre-date the resignations.
Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan, a counsel for Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy appearing before the Supreme Court stated that the Speaker needs to find the reason behind the mass resignation.
“Every MLA who went to Mumbai wants to be Minister. It is not an individual’s case but a pack of 10 MLAs. It is a matter to be decided by evening,” said Dhavan.
Dhavan argued that a strategy of the other side has been clearly disclosed as the rebel MLAs have clearly stated their intentions of becoming ministers once resignations are accepted. So that motive is what Speaker has to go into, added Dhavan.
“It is the motive which is important. 15 people are hunting in a pack. They flew to Mumbai when they could have met the Speaker,” said Dhavan.
Similar to Singhvi, Rajeev Dhavan maintained that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to decide on the case. The two interim orders passed last week was in excess of this Court’s jurisdiction, said Dhavan.
He said that the Supreme Court Rules are clearly stating that it will not entertain a petition under Article 32 unless there is a fundamental right involved. Article 190 should be read along with the Tenth schedule, argued Dhavan.
Chief Minister Kumaraswamy’s counsel reiterated that the Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to pass interim orders asking the Speaker to maintain status quo on MLAs resignation or disqualification. “This is not Speaker vs Court. This is between CM and somebody who wants to become CM by bringing down govt,” Dhavan argued in the Court.
Rajeev Dhavan also made submissions on the doctrine of “political thicket”. Dhavan stated that the intent of the opposition is to defeat the government by luring numbers before the budget. “Political thicket doctrine does not say to Your Lordships that we can enter any political thicket we like,” said Dhavan.
Concluding his arguments, Rajeev Dhavan said that there has to be a full debate on the issue and there cannot be a truncated debate on this.
Countering the argument of the speaker that there was no fundamental right violated by not allowing them to resign, Mukul Rohatgi said that his right to resign and do what I want is being violated with speaker refusing to accept the resignations.
Constitutional Rules mandates the speaker to decide immediately provided it is genuine and voluntary, said Rohatgi. He added that the speaker has no mandate under the Constitution to go into my mind to find out why someone has resigned.
“Suppose Speaker does not decide on disqualification for 4 years, then will our resignations also be kept pending or what,” asked Rohatgi. Rohatgi said that this was a government which has lost majority and the Speaker only wants to prop up a government which is in minority.