The Madras High Court on Wednesday agreed to hear on Thursday a plea by the DMK seeking quashing of the notices issued to its 21 MLAs by Tamil Nadu Assembly’s privileges panel for bringing banned gutkha inside the House. The first bench comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar accepted the plea by DMK MLA K S Ravichandran to take up the matter for an urgent hearing after he contended that it could have an impact on “floor test that is likely to be conducted in the legislative assembly”.
The privileges committee, headed by Deputy Speaker Pollachi V Jayaraman, had on August 28 issued notice to Opposition Leader M K Stalin and 20 other DMK MLAs for having brought gutkha (a mix of chewable tobacco and betel nut) to the House in July. The panel had sent notices to the DMK MLAs seeking their explanation within a week.
On July 19, DMK MLAs led by Stalin had created a furore in the assembly when they held up gutkha sachets, prompting Speaker P Dhanapal to refer their action to the privileges committee.
Counsel for Ravichandran submitted that the MLAs exhibited the gutkha packets in the assembly to draw attention that it was available despite ban. The act of displaying the gutkha packets was, therefore, in public interest and good faith to highlight the larger issue involved in it, he contended.
He contended that the show cause notice did not mention how the matter pertains to privileges of the House.
The counsel submitted that the “sole motive” for taking action appears to be to prevent the petitioner and other MLAs from exercising their constitutional right “to vote at the floor test that is likely to be conducted in the Legislative Assembly”.
Averring malafide in the privilege notices, the petitioner contended that the court has jurisdiction to go into the matter. “When proceedings by the Speaker are without jurisdiction, tainted with gross illegality, involves violation of principles of natural justice or fundamental rights, the court has jurisdiction to inquire into it and exercise its powers of judicial review,” he contended.
Stating that the sole ground for issuance of notice by the privileges committee was that a prohibited item (gutkha) was brought inside the House and it was exhibited during debate, the counsel said it was a wrong premise. “The said premise is, on face of it, wrong as the possession of gutkha in the Assembly or at any place is not prohibited either by the Rules or by any Law.”
Even the Government order, by which gutkha ban is imposed, only prohibits manufacture, storage, distribution and sale, the petitioner said.