In a far-reaching judgment, the Supreme Court has ruled that by joining a coalition government and becoming ministers, Independents will not lose their separate identity, and later by expressing lack of faith in the Chief Minister they will not attract disqualification.

A Bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and Cyriac Joseph gave this ruling while setting aside the Karnataka Assembly Speaker's order disqualifying five Independents for expressing lack of faith in the government, led by the former Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa.

In May 2011, the Bench quashed the order and said it would give detailed reasons later.

Writing the judgment, Mr. Justice Kabir interpreted the provisions of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution relating to defections and held that the fact that the Independents had joined the BJP government would not mean that they had sacrificed their identities.

The Bench said: “It is no doubt true that an Independent legislator does not always have to express his intention to join a party in writing, but the mere extension of support to Mr. Yeddyurappa and the decision to join his Cabinet, in our view, were not sufficient to conclude that the appellants had decided to join and/or had actually joined the BJP, particularly on account of the subsequent conduct in which they were treated differently from the members of the BJP.”

“In the facts of this case, there is no material or evidence to show that the appellants had, at any time, joined the BJP. Even as Independents, the appellants could extend support to a government formed by a political party and could become a Minister in such government. There is no legal bar on… such extension of support or joining the government. Hence, such extension of support or joining the government as Minister by an Independent does not by itself mean that he has joined the political party which formed the government. There is also no evidence to show that the appellants were accepted and treated as members of the BJP by that … party. It is to be noted that the petitioners before the Speaker had no grievance about the appellants supporting the BJP government and becoming Ministers in the government for more than two years.”

The Bench said: “Only when the appellants withdrew support to the government led by Mr. Yeddyurappa and a confidence vote was scheduled to be held did the petitioners rake up the issue of alleged disqualification”. On the contention that the Speaker was not amenable to court jurisdiction, the Bench, citing various decisions, held that under the Constitution, “the Speaker discharges quasi-judicial functions, which makes an order passed by him in such capacity subject to judicial review.”

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