As more and more MLAs of the Congress and the JD(S) resign in Karnataka, reducing the ruling coalition to a minority, all eyes are on Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar who has not yet decided on the resignations. What is the role that is expected of the Speaker under such circumstances? A look at what the rulebook says, and the unfolding situation:
Where do the resignations leave the ruling coalition in term of numbers?
The majority mark in the 224-member Assembly is 113. Without taking the resignations into account, the ruling coalition has a strength of 116 — 78 MLAs of the Congress, 37 of the JD(S) and one of the BSP — besides the Speaker himself, whose casting vote, if required in a trust vote, would raise the count to 117.
So far, 16 MLAs — 13 of the Congress and three of the JD(S) — have submitted their resignations. If these are accepted, it will reduce the Assembly strength to 208, the majority mark to 105, and the ruling coalition’s strength to 100, besides the Speaker.
The BJP, which already had 105 MLAs, now has an effective strength of 107, with two independent MLAs having already quit the ministry.
What has the Speaker’s stand been?
On Tuesday, he told the media: “Anybody can come and resign; they are free to do so. I will be in my office till evening. But I cannot accept [the resignations] immediately as I would need to verify them. I need to go through the rulebook, understand it and then come to a conclusion. All members are elected individually. I don’t want to commit a mistake; the future should not consider me as an accused.”
On Saturday, he had told the media that he had asked his office to take the resignations for the time being. “Tomorrow [Sunday], the office will be closed… Monday I have prior engagement, so on Tuesday I will go to office and take further action, in accordance with rules.”
So, what does the rulebook say?
Under Rule 202(1) of the Rules of Procedure of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, “a member who desires to resign his seat in the House shall intimate in writing under his hand addressed to the Speaker his intention to resign his seat in the House in the following form and shall not give any reason for his resignation.”
Thereafter, it lays down the format of a resignation letter: “I hereby tender my resignation of my seat in the House with effect from (the date).”
The rulebook spells out the mode for dealing with any deviation from the process laid, saying: “Provided that where any member gives any reason or introduces and extraneous matter the Speaker may in his discretion omit such words, phrases or matter and the same shall not be read in the House.”
The subequent sub-rule, 202(2), says: “If a member hands over the letter of resignation to the Speaker personally and informs him that the resignation is voluntary and genuine and the Speaker has no information or knowledge to the contrary, and if he is satisfied, the Speaker may accept resignation immediately.”
When 13 of the 16 MLAs — 10 of the Congress and three of the JD(S) — reached the Speaker’s office on Saturday to submit their resignations, the Speaker reportedly left his office and they submitted their papers to his office. Later, they met with the Governor and informed him of their decision to resign.
What happens if an MLA cannot submit his or her resignation letter in person?
Sub-rule 202(3) says: “If the Speaker receives the letter of resignation either by post or through someone else, the Speaker may make such inquiry as he thinks fit to satisfy himself that the resignation is voluntary and genuine. If the Speaker, after making a summary enquiry either himself or through the agency of Legislative Assembly Secretariat or through such other agency, as he may deem fit; is satisfied that the resignation is not voluntary or genuine, he shall not accept the resignation.”
In this case, however, the MLAs had personally gone to his office to hand over their resignations.
In fact, Article 101(3) of the Constitution, as originally framed, did not contain any provision for acceptance of the resignation by the Presiding Officer, and this implied that the resignation became effective when it was received by the Presiding Officer or the Secretariat. According to M N Kaul and S L Shakdher (‘Practice and Procedure of Parliament’): “The element of acceptance of resignation was introduced by the Constitution (33rd Amendment) Act, 1974 to place a check on any forced resignation.”
Sushil Chandra Varma, the then BJP MP from Bhopal, had sent his letter of resignation to the Lok Sabha Speaker on February 15, 1999. He was asked to confirm whether his resignation was voluntary and genuine. Meanwhile, Varma not only participated in a vote held on February 26, 1999, but also started signing the members’ attendance register from March. After he was summoned by the Speaker and asked to clarify on this, Varma wrote to the Speaker on March 19, 1999, stating that the issues that had made him tender his resignation had since been sorted out. On his request, the Speaker treated his resignation as having been withdrawn.
What is the case of ‘disqualification’ that the Congress is talking about?
While Congress leaders are trying to wean the defectors back, the party leader in the Assembly, K Siddaramaiah, has said that the Congress would seek the disqualification of rebel MLAs who have put in their papers because, he claimed, their resignations were not voluntary and genuine.
The 10th Schedule of the Constitution provides that a member of an Assembly or Parliament will be disqualified “if he voluntarily gives up the membership” of the party on whose ticket he has been elected.
In the curently unfolding situation, however, neither the Congress nor the JD(S) has complained yet about any of the MLAs giving up the membership of their respective parties. The 16 MLAs have themselves chosen to quit the Assembly.