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SC says rebel MLAs in Karnataka not to be compelled to take part in Assembly proceedings

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New Delhi, Jul 17 :  The Supreme Court on Wednesday said 15 rebel Congress-JD(S) MLAs in Karnataka “ought not” to be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the ongoing session of the state Assembly and an option should be given to them as to whether they wanted to take part or stay out of it.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said Karnataka Assembly Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar will decide on the resignation of the 15 MLAs within such time-frame as considered appropriate by him.

The bench, also comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, said the speaker’s discretion in deciding on the MLAs’ resignations should not be fettered by the court’s directions or observations and he should be left free to decide the issue.

The apex court also said the speaker’s decision be placed before it.

“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 proceedings or opt to remain out of the same. We order accordingly,” the bench said in its three-page order.

It also noted that the imperative necessity at this stage was to maintain the constitutional balance and the conflicting and competing rights canvassed before it.

“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,” it said.

The bench further said, “In these circumstances, the competing claims have to be balanced by an appropriate interim order, which according to us, should be to permit the speaker of the House 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 apex court further said, “We also take the view that in the present case, 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.”

The bench noted in its order that the issue before it was whether the resignations submitted by the MLAs prior to the petitions for their disqualification under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution should be accorded priority in the decision-making process or whether both sets of proceedings should be taken up simultaneously or the disqualification proceedings should have precedence over the requests for resignation.

“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 bench said.

It further said, “In the present case, having regard to the stage at which the above issues are poised in the light of the facts and circumstances surrounding the same, we are of the view that the questions should receive an answer only at a later stage of the proceedings.”

The court also allowed the intervention application of five rebel MLAs to be made as parties in the case, in which 10 MLAs have approached the apex court earlier.

It also allowed the application filed by Anil Chacko Joseph, who, along with around 400 Congress workers, has approached the court for impleadment as a party in the matter.

The Congress workers have alleged that the resignation by the rebel MLAs was a ploy to destabilise the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government in the southern state.

The top court had, on Tuesday, heard all the parties, during which Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and the speaker questioned its jurisdiction on entertaining the rebel MLAs, who alleged that they were being forced to act in a particular manner so as to save the coalition government in the state that had lost majority.

It had also questioned the speaker’s contention that the issue of disqualification had to be decided first by asking him what was he doing till July 10 when the MLAs had resigned on July 6 itself.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Kumaraswamy, had said the rebel MLAs were “hunting in a pack” and the speaker could not “turn a blind eye” to it since their motive was to bring down the government.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the rebel MLAs, had said the speaker was acting in a “partisan” and “mala fide” manner by not accepting the resignations of the lawmakers and had “frustrated” their fundamental right to resign.

He had said the whole design not to accept the resignations and keeping the disqualification issue pending was for the ruling coalition to issue a whip to the MLAs to act in a particular manner when the confidence motion was put to vote on Thursday as any contrary action would invite disqualification.

Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for the speaker, had said the disqualification pleas against the MLAs were filed prior to their resignations on July 11, when they physically appeared before the speaker.

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