SC Upholds Disqualification of Karnataka MLAs, but Allows Them to Contest Bypolls

The BJP said it will take a call soon on whether the rebels should be given the party's ticket.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the disqualification of 17 Congress-JD (S) MLAs of Karnataka, but allowed them to contest the upcoming bypolls on December 5.

A petition was filed by the MLAs, who had resigned and paved the way for the JD(S)-Congress coalition to collapse. They challenged the orders of the then-assembly speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar to disqualify them.

The three-judge bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari, delivering the verdict, said they did not appreciate the manner in which the petitioner approached the court. “A party challenging disqualification is required to first approach the [high court]. This court will have the benefit of HC judgement if dispute comes here. Even though this court has jurisdiction,” Justice Ramana said, according to LiveLaw.

According to reports, the apex court upheld the speaker’s order disqualifying the MLAs, but struck down the portion which said “until the end of the term”. The speaker is a quasi-judicial authority, the court observed, asking the petitioners to go to high court first instead of utilising Article 32, which allows individuals to move to the Supreme Court to seek justice.

The bench said that the speaker should give “reasonable time” for considering the resignations because their validity depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. The bench also observed the “growing trend” of speakers acting against the constitutional mandate to remain neutral, saying this is denying citizens stable governments.

“Further horse trading and corrupt practices associated with defection and change of loyalty for lure of office or wrong reasons have not abated…. In these circumstances, there is need to consider strengthening certain aspects, so that such undemocratic practices are discouraged and checked,” the bench observed, according to LiveLaw.

The bench had reserved its verdict on October 25.

Kumar had disqualified these 17 MLAs of ruling the Congress-JD(S) coalition ahead of a trust vote in July after they submitted their resignations and flew to Mumbai. The then chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy had resigned after losing the trust vote, which paved the way for the BJP-led government in the state under B.S. Yediyurappa.

Bypolls to 15 of the 17 assembly seats which fell vacant following the disqualification of the MLAs are scheduled for December 5 and candidates are required to file their nomination papers between November 11 and November 18.

The disqualified MLAs have recently approached the apex court seeking a direction to the Election Commission to postpone the assembly by-polls till the pronouncement of the verdict in the matter.

Some of the disqualified MLAs had argued in the apex court that they have an “indefeasible right” to resign as members of the assembly and the decision by the then-speaker to disqualify them smacks of “vengeance” and “mala fide” intention.

During arguments in the matter, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Karnataka Congress, had contended that the then-speaker, who was the master of the assembly, had exercised his jurisdiction to disqualify the MLAs and his decision cannot be questioned.

Supreme Court. Photo: PTI

Sibal had also submitted that “the matter needs to be referred to a Constitution bench as it raises matters of grave constitutional importance”.

The incumbent Karnataka assembly speaker had earlier told the top court that he has no difficulty in hearing these 17 MLAs and take a “fresh call” on the issue.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the office of the Karnataka assembly speaker, had submitted that under the scheme of the Constitution, a lawmaker has the right to resign and the speaker should accept it. The current assembly speaker is V. Hegde Kageri.

Legislators, BJP and Congress welcome verdict

Speaking after the judgment, BJP’s Karnataka president Nalin Kumar Kateel said the party respects the court’s verdict and will take a call on giving the disqualified MLAs tickets to contest the bypolls.

“I will speak with CM Yediyurappa and also discuss it with the BJP core committee, after which we will take a call on the issue,” he said, according to The News Minute.

Yediyurappa also welcomed the verdict, saying he will meet the disqualified MLAs in the evening. “We will announce the decision regarding inducting the rebels into the party this evening. I will consult with state and national leaders too,” he said, according to reports.

Disqualified Hunsur MLA and former JD(S) state president Adagooru H. Vishwanath said the verdict was a big relief. “We did not break any laws. The speaker, Congress and JD(S) had colluded to ensure that we (referring to the 17 rebel MLAs) cannot contest elections,” he said.

Meanwhile, Congress’s state president Dinesh Gundu Rao claimed that the verdict “proved” that the BJP government in Karnataka is illegal. On Twitter, he welcomed the verdict and said “BJP used unconstitutional means to fabricate a majority”.

He also said the BJP’s role in the toppling of the JD(S)-Congress coalition government is “now clear”.

(With PTI inputs)