Himachal Pradesh: Big Blow To 6 Rebel Congress MLAs As SC Refuses To Stay Speaker's Disqualification Order

Himachal Pradesh: Big Blow To 6 Rebel Congress MLAs As SC Refuses To Stay Speaker's Disqualification Order

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta issued a notice to the office of Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania and sought its response within four weeks on a plea by the six rebels challenging their disqualification from the Assembly.

PTIUpdated: Monday, March 18, 2024, 05:12 PM IST
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The Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay the Himachal Pradesh Assembly Speaker's order disqualifying the six Congress rebels who had cross-voted in the recent Rajya Sabha polls in the state.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta issued a notice to the office of Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania and sought its response within four weeks on a plea by the six rebels challenging their disqualification from the Assembly.

MLAs not allowed to vote or participate in assembly proceedings

The bench said that pending adjudication of their plea, these disqualified MLAs will not be allowed to vote or participate in the proceedings of the assembly.

"We can issue notice on the petition, that's fine but there cannot be a stay (on the disqualification order). That will not be permissible for this court. Second, as far as a fresh election is concerned, this we will have to examine. But we will not allow you to vote or participate in proceedings of the House. On this we are very clear...," Justice Khanna told senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the six rebels.

The court posted the matter for hearing on May 6 and gave the petitioners one week to file a rejoinder.

The filing of nominations for the six vacant assembly seats starts on May 7.

Election notified, cannot be stayed: Singhvi

During the hearing, Salve said that after the voting in the Rajya Sabha election on February 27, the petitioners were issued a notice to appear before the speaker for their comments on disqualification.

"We appeared as asked and told the speaker that we have not got the copy of petition seeking disqualification," he said, adding if the disqualification order was not stayed, their petition would become infructuous.

"At the end, we should not be told that the election has been held and now someone else has come in," Salve said.

Senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for the office of the speaker, said the notification for the election has been issued and various judgments of the court say once an election has been notified, it cannot be stayed.

Justice Khanna told Singhvi that the court is not going to stay the disqualification.

Will examine if fresh elections need to be stayed: SC

"As far as the question of staying the fresh election is concerned, that will have to be examined. Otherwise, their petition will become infructuous," he said.

Justice Datta also pointed out that the petition was filed before the elections were notified.

Senior advocate Satya Pal Jain, also appearing for the disqualified MLAs, said as per the election schedule notified by the Election Commission, the filing of nominations for the six vacant seats will start from May 7.

Justice Khanna said when this court issues a notice in a matter like this, the fresh election may be delayed by the EC.

The bench then posted the matter for further hearing on May 6 and asked the office of the assembly speaker to file its counter affidavit in four weeks.

The six rebels -- Sudhir Sharma, Ravi Thakur, Rajinder Rana, Inder Dutt Lakhanpal, Chetanya Sharma and Devinder Kumar Bhutto -- were disqualified on February 29, for defying a Congress whip to be present in the House and vote in favour of the Himachal Pradesh government during the cut motion and budget.

Following the disqualification of the rebels, the effective strength of the House has gone down to 62 from 68, while the number of Congress MLAs has shrunk to 34 from 40.

Petitioners allege violation of the principle of natural justice

According to the notification issued on March 16 by the poll panel, assembly by-elections are scheduled to be held in the Dharamshala, Sujanpur, Lahaul and Spiti, Barsar, Gagret and Kutlehar constituencies that fell vacant after the disqualification of the six lawmakers on June 1.

The petitioners have alleged a violation of the principle of natural justice, claiming they did not get adequate opportunity to respond to the disqualification petition.

Announcing the disqualification of the six MLAs at a press conference on February 29, the speaker said they were disqualified under the anti-defection law as they defied the party whip. He ruled that they ceased to be members of the House with immediate effect.

The Himachal Pradesh parliamentary affairs minister filed the petition seeking their disqualification before the Speaker.

Under the anti-defection law, any elected member who gives up the membership of a political party voluntarily or votes or abstains from voting in the House, contrary to any direction issued by his political party, is liable for disqualification.

These MLAs had signed the attendance register but abstained from the House during the voting on the Budget, the Speaker said. They were issued notices for defying the whip through WhatsApp and e-mail and were asked to appear for the hearing.

The Himachal Pradesh Assembly passed the Finance Bill by voice vote after the speaker suspended 15 BJP MLAs. The speaker then adjourned the session.

In his 30-page order, Pathania said the plea of the lawyer of the rebel MLAs, seeking time to reply to the notice was not entertained as "evidence was absolutely clear".

The Speaker said delivering a quick judgment was necessary in such cases to maintain the dignity of democracy and check the "Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram" phenomenon.

The judgment had no link with cross-voting by these MLAs in the Rajya Sabha polls, the Speaker added.

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