New Delhi: On the eve of trust vote in Karnataka Assembly, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that 15 Congress MLAs, who have tendered their resignations, cannot be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the House.
The top court also said the Speaker is free to decide on the resignation of the MLAs as per the Constitution. According to the order, MLAs are free to skip the trust vote in the Karnataka Assembly slated for Thursday.
"We also make it clear that until further orders the 15 Members of the Assembly, ought not to be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the ongoing session of the House and an option should be given to them that they can take part in the said proceedings or to opt to remain out of the same," said the bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, in its order.
The court was hearing petitions filed by 15 rebel MLAs, seeking directions to the Assembly Speaker to accept their resignations. "The Speaker should decide freely, as the court will not come in the way of this process....," said the court, citing the trust-vote.
It said that the order of the Speaker on the resignation issue, as and when passed, be placed before the court. The court said it while passing interim orders in facts and circumstances of the case and to maintain "constitutional balance" and "competing rights" of the parties".
"The imperative necessity, at this stage, is to maintain the constitutional balance and the conflicting and competing rights that have been canvassed before us. Such an interim exercise has become prudent in view of certain time frame exercise(s) that is in the offing in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, particularly, the no-trust motion against the present government, which we are told is due for being taken up on July 18 2019," the court said.
The court also said the the Speaker of the House should be allowed to decide on the request for resignations by the 15 Members of the House within such time frame as the speaker may consider appropriate.
The court also said that the discretion of the Speaker, while deciding the issue, should not be fettered by any direction or observation of this court and the Speaker should be left free to decide the issue in accordance with Article 190 read with Rule 202 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Karnataka Legislative Assembly framed in exercise of the powers under Article 208 of the Constitution.
"Constitutional principles should not receive an exhaustive enumeration by the court unless such an exercise is inevitable and unavoidable to resolve the issues that may have arisen in any judicial proceeding," the court said.
During the day-long arguments on Tuesday, the parties involved pointed out to the bench the implications of the ongoing political crisis in Karnataka on the state as well as elsewhere, and also questioned the apex court's jurisdiction power to entertain the rebel MLAs' petition.
Hearing rebel MLAs counsel senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, the bench said: "We cannot say, in which way, the Speaker should decide the resignation or disqualification of MLAs. We cannot fetter him.
Although, the important question is, is there any constitutional obligation for the Speaker to decide upon the resignations before the disqualification of the MLA or to club his decisions on both?"
The bench asked counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi what stopped Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar from deciding on whether to accept or reject the resignations tendered by the MLAs on July 6.
"You were silent on the resignations till the MLAs came to the Supreme Court. Why? If you have decided on the resignations, then where is the scope for disqualification?" the Chief Justice asked Singvhi.
Singhvi replied that the Speaker had filed an affidavit in the apex court explaining what had happened. Asked why wasn't a decision taken when the MLAs went to the Speaker with their resignations, Singhvi said it was a written communication, and the Speaker was not available on that day. "But the decision was communicated to him on July 6," the court added.
Singhvi argued that the first condition of a genuine resignation tendered by an MLA was that "he has to be personally present before the Speaker" and added that the MLAs first met the Speaker on July 11.
Reacting sharply to the argument, the court said that the provision did not negate resigning by letter, but if the MLAs did make a personal visit to the Speaker then he was expected to decide on their resignations immediately. "Why didn't it happen on July 11?" the bench further queried.
Asking if the Speaker was challenging the Supreme Court's jurisdiction power, the Chief Justice said: "For your benefit, the court had ordered a floor test (referring to the last year's floor test) and appointed a Protem Speaker in a midnight hearing. The exercise of jurisdiction of our power depends only on self-restraint."
Singhvi said the Speaker was in no way questioning the court's jurisdiction and added: "Suppose a Speaker goes crazy, then Your Lordships can intervene."
The Chief Justice also heard senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who was representing Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, and questioned the veracity of the petition filed by the rebel MLAs.
Asking the Supreme Court to have looked at the notice behind the petition, Dhawan said: "The court should have not entertained this petition," he said.