The Supreme Court Wednesday left it to the Karnataka Assembly Speaker to decide on the resignations of the 15 rebel Congress and Janata Dal (S) MLAs but ordered that they should not be compelled to attend the proceedings of the state Assembly. The apex court’s order comes ahead of the floor test that is scheduled to take place in Karnataka Assembly tomorrow.
In an interim order, a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said it thought fit to permit the Speaker to decide on the resignations “within such time frame as the Speaker may consider appropriate”. The bench added that the MLAs should be given an option to attend or not to attend the proceedings of the House.
The order came on petitions by the MLAs challenging the action of Karnataka Assembly Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar in not accepting their resignations. The bench said it was of the view that the Speaker should not feel fettered by any order and should be free to make a decision. The court directed that the Speaker’s decision be placed before it as and when it is taken.
The bench, while pronouncing the order, said it was necessary to maintain the constitutional balance in the matter. The court said other issues raised in the matter would be decided at a later stage.
A total of 16 Congress and JD(S) MLAs have submitted resignations since July 6. This means the coalition strength will fall to 101 compared to the BJP’s 105 plus two Independents in the 224-member House. If the resignations are accepted, the 13-month-old Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka will lose the majority, paving the way for the BJP to stake claim to form the government.
The rebels, few of whom have been camping in a hotel in Mumbai after resigning, had gone to the Supreme Court accusing the Speaker of not accepting their resignations in order to give the coalition more time to gather support.
The top court had, on Tuesday, heard all the parties — Karnataka Speaker, rebel MLAs and Chief Minister Kumaraswamy. During the hearing, the court said that the position and powers of the Speaker after the enactment of the anti-defection law in 1985 may require a re-look.
The CJI countered arguments that the court did not have the jurisdiction to direct the Speaker to act in a particular manner at this stage. “The extent of jurisdiction depends on the kind of restraint this court would like to impose upon itself. There is no inflexible rule,” the bench told senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi who appeared for the Speaker.
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Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Kumaraswamy, said what mattered was the motive of the MLAs and the Speaker had to take this into account. “Your lordships are not dealing with individual resignations. But here is a situation where they are hunting in a pack,” he said, referring to the MLAs travelling to Mumbai after the political storm erupted.
He said their petition did not disclose any fundamental right that warranted the filing of a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing the MLAs, said that “by not deciding, you (Speaker) are compelling a man to act against his wishes.”He contended that the resignation of the MLAs was voluntary and that it was absurd to demand proof when they had appeared in person and tendered their resignations.