EC defers Karnataka by-polls to let SC decide on MLAs' disqualification

NEW DELHI: In a sort of victory for the disqualified Karnataka MLAs, the Election Commission on Thursday deferred the by-elections for 15 Assembly seats on October 21, letting the Supreme Court take a call on their petitions challenging then Speaker's decision debarring them from contesting during the current House tenure.

The EC's decision came on the second day of hearing on Thursday on the MLAs' petitions when the Court announced not to pass any interim order to stay the by-elections as sought by them, and fixed further hearing only on October 22.

Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi offered to defer the 15 by-elections "for sometime" on behalf of the Election Commission just as the Bench of Justices N V Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari declared not to stay the by-elections but hear the batch of petitions challenging their disqualification by then Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar.

When the Bench asked him whether his statement should be recorded in the order, he said: "We will certainly do it." He obviously had  brief from the Election Commission but he did not make it explicit in the course of the second day of the hearing, waiting for the Court's decision on the prayer to stay the by-election.

On Wednesday, Dwivedi had asserted that the former Speaker's order disqualifying the MLAs cannot deprive them of their right to contest the by-elections. Then Speaker's senior advocate Kapil Sibal protested, noting that the Speaker's order is explicit that no disqualified MLA can be a member of the present Assembly.

The lawyers appearing for the disqualified MLAs, Congress leader Siddaramaiah, and other respondents said that they have no objection if the by-polls are deferred.

Fifteen seats were vacated after the disqualification of the rebel Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs following their resignation from their respective parties. The then Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar had disqualified 17 MLAs — 13 belonging to the Congress, three from the JDS, and one independent, which eventually led to the fall of the Congress-JD(S) coalition government headed by the then chief minister HD Kumaraswamy in July.

Kumaraswamy resigned as chief minister after losing the trust vote, paving the way for the installation of the BJP government with BS Yediyurappa as the chief minister.

The disqualified lawmakers have approached the apex court, challenging Kumar's decision to disqualify them. In their pleas, they have contended that the decision taken by Kumar before resigning as Speaker was an entirely illegal, arbitrary and mala fide exercise of his power under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution.

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