Karnataka rebel MLAs resignation: Supreme Courts tells Speaker to defer decision

Supreme Court orders status quo and schedules hearing for July 16.

Published - July 12, 2019 08:22 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar chairs a Karnataka Assembly session at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru on July 12, 2019.

Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar chairs a Karnataka Assembly session at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru on July 12, 2019.

The Supreme Court on July 12 pressed the pause button in the legal battle for power in Karnataka by asking Legislative Assembly Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar to refrain from deciding on the disqualification or resignation of 10 rebel Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs for the time being.

The order comes just a day after the court asked Mr. Kumar to meet the 10 MLAs at 6 p.m. on July 11 and decide on their resignations “forthwith or in the course of the remaining part of the day”.

On July 11, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi ordered status quo and scheduled the hearing for July 16.

The Bench’s decision came after an hour-long hearing in which Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy said the rebel MLAs have dragged the court into a “political thicket”.

“What was the basis of the Supreme Court’s intervention? Your Lordships passed an ex parte order against me yesterday… But what do these MLAs want? They claim the government has failed, so you[Supreme Court] help us fail it further. They claim there is ‘mala fide’. But these are just words. They claim the State administration has come to a standstill and there are scams. Do you know that one of them is involved in a scam named in their own petition?” senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, for the Chief Minister, submitted.

The Speaker, in turn, accused the legislators of feeding the court a petition “full of blunders and distortions”.

Mr. Kumar, represented by senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, said the MLAs did not disclose that disqualification proceedings were pending against them since February under the anti-defection law.

He asked whether the court had acted within the framework of the Constitution by putting him, a constitutional authority, on a deadline to meet the rebels and decide their resignation. He said Article 190 of the Constitution gave the Speaker discretion to decide whether resignations tendered were voluntary and genuine.

In a 10-page affidavit, the Speaker clearly told the court that the MLAs’ resignations would be considered along with the disqualification proceedings for defection under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution. He would take a call in the spirit and letter of law.

Initially, Chief Justice Gogoi asked whether the Speaker was “challenging the power and authority of the court to pass orders.”

“Is it the stand of the Speaker that the Supreme Court should stay its hands as far as the Speaker is concerned?” he asked.

“Weighty” issues

But the Bench later acknowledged that “weighty” issues have been raised, including of judicial intervention and whether the Speaker was constitutionally obligated to decide the question of disqualification of the legislators before taking a call on their resignation letters.

The hearing began with senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for the rebel MLAs, adopting an aggressive tone, saying the Speaker did not take a decision on the resignations after meeting them on July 11. He said the Speaker instead held a press conference where he was heard asking “why the hell did the MLAs go to the Supreme Court and not come to me.”

Mr. Rohatgi said the “game” is to delay action on the resignations and brazenly nudge events to culminate in the disqualification of the MLAs for not obeying their party’s whip during the Assembly session that commenced on July 12.

“The Speaker can be given two more days to decide on the resignations. If he does not want to decide at all, this is a case of contempt,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted.

But the Speaker countered, saying his meeting with the MLAs on July 11 was videographed. The MLAs were on camera backtracking their claims that he had made himself “scarce” on July 6 when they came to tender their resignation at his office. They had misled the court, he said.

The MLAs, during the course of the hearing, admitted that they had never tendered their resignation to him personally. They also confirmed that they had neither sought time nor an appointment with him. They stated that it was wrong to state that when they had come to offer resignation, he escaped through the back door, the Speaker said in the affidavit.

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