Law

SC Refuses to Stay Disqualification of Nine Uttarakhand Congress MLAs

Supreme Court of India. Credit: Shome Basu

Supreme Court of India. Credit: Shome Basu

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay the Uttarakhand high court verdict dismissing the petitions of nine Congress MLAs challenging their disqualification by the speaker. As a result, the nine MLAs cannot vote in tomorrow’s floor test in the Uttarakhand assembly when the vote of confidence of Harish Rawat takes place.

A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh also rejected their submission that their votes need not be counted but kept in a separate sealed cover and sent to the apex court. Soon after the high court pronounced its verdict in the morning, the nine MLAs appealed in the apex court, which took up the matter for hearing in the afternoon.

Senior counsel Aryama Sundaram, appearing for the MLAs, contended that dissent within the party cannot be construed as giving up membership of the party. They were aggrieved over the decision of the speaker not to have a division during the voting of Appropriation Bill and Rawat for his actions. Since the speaker had declared the motion passed, the question of their voting against the party’s decision did not arise, he argued and pleaded for stay of the impugned order to enable them to vote in tomorrow’s floor test.

Senior counsel Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi opposed the stay and said the speaker’s order on disqualification is final and cannot be questioned in the court of law. Since they had already been removed from the assembly they cannot be permitted to vote tomorrow.

What the high court had said

The high court in its verdict delivered in the morning said “By their (the nine MLAs) conduct, it has been established that they have ‘voluntarily given up membership of their political party’, even if they have not become members of any other political party. In a petition of this nature, a quasi-judicial authority, like the speaker, should make an endeavour to decide the petition at an early date, although not in ‘undue haste’. This court does not find, from the documents on record, that the speaker passed the impugned order in ‘undue haste’. Any judicial or quasi-judicial authority will be criticised in any way, if he decides the lis before him early or if he sits over the matter for long. Striking a balance between the two is a golden rule.”

The high court also said that it is apparent on the basis of documents on record, in the instant case, that the opportunity to the liking of the petitioners was not granted by the speaker, but that opportunity cannot be termed as an ‘insufficient opportunity’.

“The petitioners are clearly the victims of their own actions, probably not knowing fully well that it will take them so far. The Court is sympathetic to them. Such type of things happen when people assemble together. But, one should not forget that they are responsible law makers. They make the law, which is implemented by the executive and is adjudicated by the judiciary. This court does not find, from the documents on record, that the speaker passed the impugned order in ‘undue haste’. It said that this judgment shall come in the way of speaker-party respondent number one to review his own order, in accordance with law, if the petitioners are so advised to move for the same, on any of the grounds available to them in law.”

The bench agreed with Mr. Sibal and refused to stay the judgment. The bench posted the matter for further hearing on July 12 when the plea for interim stay will be considered. Meanwhile, the bench directed the principal secretary, legislative and parliamentary affairs (PSLPA), a neutral person to monitor the `floor test’ in the Uttarakhand assembly on May 10. On May 6, a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh had directed that the principal secretary, legislative assembly (PSLA) of Uttarakhand to oversee the floor test and to remain present at the time of voting.

This morning, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi mentioned before the bench that when the court passed an order on May 6, an impression was given that the PSLA is from the cadre of the higher judicial service of the state. But now it has turned out that there is another PSLPA who only belongs to the judicial service and, therefore, a necessity has arisen for modification of the order.

Senior counsel Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi strongly opposed any modification of the order and said that since the PSLPA is an outsider there should not be an observer as that would not be constitutionally permissible. They pointed out that only the PSLA is part of the assembly, who alone should be allowed during voting.

Rejecting the argument, the bench in its order said “Today, it has been told to us that the PSLA is not from higher judicial service. The present situation, if we allow ourselves to say so, is a piquant one. The court ordinarily would not have directed for having a session and direct Mr. Rawat to prove the majority in the floor test. The purpose (to have an observer) is to save the sanctity of democracy which is the basic feature of our Constitution. Solely for the aforesaid purpose, we intend to modify the order by directing that the PSLPA who belongs to the cadre of the district judge shall remain present to conduct the affairs with perceptible objectivity and singularity of purpose of neutrality along with the PSLA. The order is modified accordingly. We ingeminate it that we have so directed so that no party can raise a cavil with regard to the process of voting.” The bench directed the matter to be listed for further hearing on May 11 to consider the report of the speaker in a sealed cover.