Supreme Court upholds disqualification of Karnataka MLAs; Key observations

The Speaker’s scope of inquiry with respect to acceptance or rejection of a resignation tendered by a member of the legislature is limited to examine whether such a resignation was tendered voluntarily or genuinely.

Supreme Court upholds disqualification of Karnataka MLAs; Key observations

The Supreme Court on Wednesday (November 13) upheld the decision of the then Karnataka speaker KR Ramesh Kumar to disqualify 17 rebel Congress-JD(S) MLAs under the anti-defection law, but ruled that they can contest the upcoming by-elections in the state. The MLAs were also barred from contesting polls for the duration of the current assembly, which is slated to end in 2023. 

The key observations of the Supreme Court are: 

1. The Speaker, while adjudicating a disqualification petition, acts as a  quasi­judicial  authority and the validity of the orders thus passed can be questioned before this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution. However, ordinarily, the party challenging the disqualification is required to first approach the High Court as the same would be appropriate, effective and expeditious. 

2. The Speaker’s scope of inquiry with respect to acceptance or rejection of a resignation tendered by a member of the legislature is limited to examine whether such a resignation was tendered voluntarily or genuinely. Once it is demonstrated that a member is willing to resign out of his free  will, the speaker has no option but to accept the resignation. 

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3. With regard to the assertion that there was violation of principles of natural justice would not also stand in view of the fact that the Speaker has taken a holistic view and gave sound reasons to disqualify the petitioner after providing him sufficient opportunity to defend himself. Alleged violation of principles of natural justice also do not carry any weight in view of the factual background of the case read in light of the fact that trust vote had to be voted upon.

4. The power of the Speaker to disqualify has been interpreted in a number of cases, and the present case does not require any broad­based reference which would only prolong the inevitable. Such casual and cavalier references should not be undertaken by this Court in view of conditions prescribed under Article   145(3) of the Constitution, which mandates a responsibility upon   this Court not to indulge in excessive academic endeavors and preserve precious judicial time, and effectively dispense justice in a timely fashion.

5. We may state that we are not persuaded for referring the present case to a larger bench as the mandate of the aforesaid Article is that this Court needs to be satisfied as to the existence of a substantial question of law on the Constitutional interpretation. However, this does not mean that every case of constitutional interpretation should be compulsorily referred to   a Constitutional Bench.

6. The   Speaker should   give sufficient   opportunity to a member before deciding a disqualification proceeding and ordinarily follow the time limit prescribed in the Rules of the Legislature.

7. In light of the existing Constitutional mandate, the Speaker is not empowered to disqualify any member till the end of the term. However, a member disqualified under the Tenth Schedule shall be subjected to sanctions provided under Articles 75(1B), 164(1B) and 361B of Constitution, which provides for a bar from being appointed as a Minister or from holding any remunerative political post from the date of disqualification till the date on which the term of his office would expire or if he is re­elected to the legislature, whichever is earlier.

8. There is a growing trend of the Speaker acting against the constitutional duty of being neutral. Further horse trading and corrupt practices associated with defection and change of loyalty   for   lure   of   office   or   wrong   reasons   have   not abated. Thereby   the   citizens   are   denied   stable governments. In   these   circumstances,   there   is   need   to consider   strengthening   certain   aspects,   so   that   such undemocratic practices are discouraged and checked.

9. In view of the discussion above, the court passed the following order:

A. Orders dated 25.07.2019 and 28.07.2019 passed by the Speaker in Disqualification Petition Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 of 2019, are upheld to the extent of the disqualification of the Petitioners therein.

B. However, the part of Speaker’s orders detailing the duration of disqualification,  viz., from the date of the respective order till the expiry of the term of the 15th Legislative Assembly of Karnataka, is accordingly set aside.