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‘Dissenting voice cannot be shut down’: SC tells Speaker, refuses to stay Rajasthan HC order

The apex court, however, said the matter would be subject to the outcome of the Speaker's petition which seeks interim stay on the high court's direction.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: July 23, 2020 3:08:29 pm
Rajasthan crisis, Rajasthan government crisis, CLP meeting, Rajasthan government CLP meeting, India news, Indian Express Sachin Pilot and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Pilot was removed as state Deputy Chief Minister last week.

In a breather to Sachin Pilot and 18 other dissenting Congress MLAs, the Supreme Court Thursday refused to stay the Rajasthan High Court’s order restraining Assembly Speaker C P Joshi to initiate disqualification proceedings against the rebel MLAs. The apex court, however, said the matter would be subject to the outcome of the Speaker’s petition which seeks interim stay on the high court’s direction.

In his petition, Joshi said the high court order was “illegal, perverse” and “in derogation of the powers of the Speaker under the Constitution”. The high court had on Tuesday deferred its order on their petition challenging the disqualification notices till July 24. It also asked the Speaker to extend the period given to the rebel MLAs to reply to his notice till then. The Speaker later agreed to defer any action “till the evening of July 24”.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari said Joshi’s plea raises important questions and requires prolonged hearing. It deferred the matter for further hearing to July 27, which also means Pilot and his MLAs would not be disqualified from the State Assembly till the said date.

Appearing for Joshi, senior advocate and Congress leader Kapil Sibal listed the reasons for starting the disqualification proceedings, saying that the MLAs did not attend party meetings despite being issued a notice by the party’s Chief Whip and conspired to topple their own government. Follow Rajasthan crisis Live Updates

The bench asked if the whip can be issued for something happening outside the House. To this, Sibal replied that the whip is not defined and it was the Chief Whip who filed disqualification plea before the Speaker who issued notices.

Read | Conspiracy to topple state govt: Ashok Gehlot in letter to PM Modi

The bench asked the Speaker reason for the initiation of disqualification proceedings against Pilot and 18 dissident Congress MLAs. “On what grounds disqualification was sought?” the bench asked.

Sibal replied, “MLAs did not attend party meeting; they are indulging in anti-party activities. They are in a Haryana hotel, incommunicado and sought floor test against their own party.”

Also read | Sachin Pilot notice to MLA who said he offered Rs 35 crore to join BJP

After hearing Rajasthan Speaker’s plea, the bench said that “dissenting voice in a democracy cannot be shut down”. “This is no simple matter, these MLAs are elected representatives. Trying to find out whether disqualification process against MLAs was permissible or not.”

To this, Sibal replied, “The proceedings under the Tenth Schedule before the Speaker are proceedings of the Legislature and as such cannot be interfered with.”

He said the issue as to whether the disqualification process is permissible or not cannot be taken note of by the court at this stage. “Our grievance is purely constitutional and there cannot be any order till decision is taken by the speaker.”

Opinion | It is high time courts revisited use of a ‘floor test’ to prove a majority in a legislature

Sibal said there are allegations of anti-government activities against the MLAs and they have made statements. If they are voicing their opinion, they should come to party and explain their stand.

At the outset, Joshi told the top court that the state high court has no jurisdiction to restrain him from conducting disqualification proceedings till July 24 against 19 dissident Congress MLAs, including sacked deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot.

Sibal said courts could only intervene when the Speaker takes a decision to suspend or disqualify a member of the House. Sibal’s response came when the bench asked him whether courts could not intervene at all if the Speaker suspended or disqualified a lawmaker.

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