The September 10, 2008 Punjab Assembly resolution expelling the former Chief Minister and Congress leader, Capt. Amarinder Singh, for his purported executive action during the term of the previous House is constitutionally invalid, the Supreme Court held on Monday. It allowed his appeal and restored his membership.

A Constitution Bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices R.V. Raveendran, P. Sathasivam, J.M. Panchal and R.M. Lodha quashed the resolution expelling Capt. Amarinder Singh for the remainder of the 13th Vidhan Sabha.

Graft charge

The former Chief Minister was accused of graft and violating rules in exempting 32.10 acres, granted to the Amritsar Improvement Trust, a private promoter, from the scheme of land acquisition. A special committee of the Assembly, which investigated the matter, held Capt. Singh guilty, and he was expelled.

Writing the judgment, the CJI said if there was any irregularity committed by the appellant and the petitioners in the exemption of land, the government ought to have moved the criminal law machinery with the filling of a complaint, followed by investigation as contemplated under the Criminal Procedure Code.

The Bench said: “It is our considered view that the Vidhan Sabha exceeded its powers by expelling the appellant on the ground of a breach of privilege when there existed none. The alleged improper exemption of land was an executive act attributable to the appellant and it did not distort, obstruct or threaten the integrity of legislative proceedings in any manner. Hence the exercise of legislative privileges under Article 194 (3) was not proper in the present case.”

The alleged improper exemption of land was made during the term of the 12th Vidhan Sabha, whereas the special committee to inquire into the matter was constituted during the 13th Assembly.

“It was not proper for the Assembly to inquire into actions that took place during its previous term, especially when there was no relatable business that had lapsed from the previous term. If we were to permit the legislature to exercise privileges for acting against members for their executive acts during previous terms, the courts are likely to be flooded with cases involving political rivalries.”

The Bench said: “One can conceive that whenever there is a change of regime, the fresh incumbents would readily fall back on the device of legislative privileges to expel their political opponents as well as dissidents. Such a scenario would frustrate some of the basic objectives of a parliamentary democracy.”

Subject of court case

When it was well known that the alleged improper exemption of land was a subject matter in the proceedings instituted before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Vidhan Sabha should have refrained from dealing with it.

The Bench, while quashing the resolution, made it clear that nothing in this judgment should act as a hurdle to the investigation, if any, into the alleged role of the appellant and other petitioners in the improper exemption of land. The law would have to take its course.