Updated: July 16, 2021 7:38:25 am
THE SUPREME Court on Thursday sought to know what is the public interest involved in the CPM-led Kerala government’s move to withdraw prosecution against six Left MLAs, who allegedly involved in vandalism inside the assembly during presentation of the 2015 Budget.
Reserving its judgment, a Bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah referred to the 2016 Supreme Court verdict in the Sheo Nandan Paswan vs State of Bihar and others case, in which the court ruled that such withdrawal must be in public interest. It then asked, “…Is it [move to withdraw prosecution against the Left MLAs] for public interest…where members have thrown things, broken things?”
“Is it in the interest of justice to throw things and damage material at the sanctum sanctorum of democracy?,” Justice Chandrachud asked Senior Advocate Ranjith Kumar, who appeared for the state. He added that “the fact of the matter is that it is public property and the government is the custodian of the public property”.
The court said sometimes bitter exchanges take place even in court. “Look at the court. Sometimes there are vituperative arguments and there is heat and sand. Would that justify destroying court property,” asked Justice Chandrachud, who headed the Bench.
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When Kumar underlined the principle of legislative privilege, Justice Chandrachud said, “There is freedom of speech in the House. No doubt about it. Suppose an MLA empties a revolver in the Assembly, can we say that the House is supreme on this?”
Referring to earlier decisions of the Supreme Court, Kumar said that “it is the domain of the House in such a situation”.
Justice Shah said the question before the court was whether the move to withdraw the case was right or not. “We want to know if it was in the larger public interest,” he said.
Kumar said the matter is grabbing headlines only because there are two parties fighting. Pointing out that it was a protest against the then state Finance Minister, he said “a protest is also a speech. It is a manner of freedom of speech”. He added: “The breach of code of conduct of the House provides for that.”
“Maybe there was breaking of furniture. But it was still a form of speech and a form of protest,” he said.
But Justice Chandrachud responded that “it wasn’t private property either”.
The incident occurred on March 13, 2015, when the Congress-led UDF was in power in Kerala. Members of the opposition Left were protesting against the then Finance Minister K M Mani’s alleged involvement in a scandal related to alleged corruption in granting of bar licences. In the ensuing fracas, nine people were injured, and the Speaker’s chamber was vandalised.
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