Will defer Karnataka bypolls till decision on dissident MLAs’ pleas, ECI tells SC

Apex court finally lists the case for October 22, a day after the bypolls are scheduled.

Updated - September 26, 2019 05:45 pm IST

Published - September 26, 2019 04:54 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

A view of the logo of the Election Commission of India (ECI) in New Delhi. File

A view of the logo of the Election Commission of India (ECI) in New Delhi. File

The Election Commission of India (ECI) said in the Supreme Court on Thursday that it would defer by-elections to 15 Karnataka Assembly constituencies till the court finally decided the petitions of the MLAs who represented these constituencies until they were disqualified by Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar under the anti-defection law.

The poll body, represented by senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, orally informed a three-judge Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana that the by-elections would be put on hold till the court decided the legality of the dissident Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) legislators’ disqualification.

Mr. Dwivedi said if the ECI had the authority to announce bypolls, it was empowered to defer them too.

The court finally listed the case for October 22, a day after the bypolls are scheduled.

The day saw senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Mr. Kumar, argue that it was not the job of the court or any political party to decide how the Speaker should decide on the resignations. The Speaker's power to enquire into the nature and circumstances leading to the resignations cannot be limited. The Speaker has to view the resignations and the circumstances leading to it in its entirety.

“The Speaker has to consider the broad facts placed before him. That the dissident MLAs stayed in a high-security hotel in Mumbai, flew in a jet owned by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, hobnobbed with BJP leaders... How can the Speaker not look into them? How can it be said 'resignations are voluntary, so the Speaker has to accept them’?” Mr. Sibal argued.

Besides, none of the facts placed before the Speaker against the MLAs were denied by them. That they were holed up in Mumbai, they went in groups, they held press conferences in groups... None of them were denied...” Mr. Sibal contended.

On Wednesday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for current Karnataka Assembly Speaker V.H. Kageri, argued that it was the right of an MLA to resign. He said it was “not defection if you give up membership of a political party for reasons of conscience, then you resign and go back to face the public mandate. This is recognition of the MLAs right to resign”. He submitted that for an MLA, his constituency was sovereign. A party whip cannot stop him from doing good for his electorate. In such cases, the legislator may opt to resign rather than continue his participation in an ineffectual government.

Senior advocate C.A. Sundaram, for former Congress MLA D. Sudhakar, had submitted that the authority of the Speaker when faced with the resignation of an MLA was limited. The Speaker was to only see if the resignation was voluntary or genuine. “A Speaker is not the party boss. He is the master of the house and not the president of the party,” he said.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for some other disqualified legislators, had highlighted the procedural flaws in the events leading to the disqualification, including the lack of notice period.

Mr. Rohatgi had, as interim relief, wanted a stay of the election notification issued on Saturday last or, in the alternative, give them permission to contest the polls in October.

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