Ilamvazhuthi freed on bail

The DMK MLA, Parithi Ilamvazhuthi, waving to a crowd of Opposition workers, as he comes out of the central prison in Chennai on Thursday. To his left is the DMK deputy general secretary, M.K. Stalin. - Photo: K. Pichumani  

K. Ramachandran

CHENNAI NOV. 13. The DMK MLA, Parithi Ilamvazhuthi, who was sentenced to a 30-day imprisonment by the Assembly Speaker for a breach of privilege and lodged in the central prison here on September 7, was today released on bail on the orders of the Madras High Court.

A Division Bench said he was entitled to be released pending disposal of a habeas corpus petition. Suspending the sentence, the court ordered he be released on bail on his furnishing a bond for Rs. 10,000 with two sureties for a similar sum each to the satisfaction of XVI metropolitan magistrate.

Legal formalities over, Mr. Ilamvazhuthi walked to freedom at 4.10 p.m., amid a tumultuous welcome by a crowd of volunteers and leaders of the DMK and other Opposition parties, who included the DMK deputy general secretary, M.K. Stalin.

A beaming Mr. Ilamvazhuthi told reporters, ``The Assembly doors were locked to put me in jail, but the judiciary opened the doors to free me...'' As a DMK man, he had been trained by his leader, M. Karunanidhi, and he was not afraid of authoritarianism.

The DMK treasurer, Arcot N. Veerasamy, had filed the habeas corpus petition seeking a direction to authorities to produce the MLA before the court and set him at liberty.

In their order, Justice P. Shanmugam and Justice A.K. Rajan said the basic issue of Fundamental Rights vs. legislative privileges was to be resolved. In the absence of codification of the procedure and the measure of punishment, they had to conform to reasonableness. The paramountcy of a citizen's liberty was the undercurrent of various provisions of the Constitution, especially Part-III.

Besides, the MLA had been in pre-trial custody for 11 days in connection with the criminal case (for allegedly intimidating D. Kumaradoss of the AIADMK and attempting to cause his death inside the House). He was also suspended from attending the entire budget session. He did not have the opportunity to place these and other mitigating or special circumstances, including his physical condition, which had a bearing on the quantum of sentence imposed. ``This, in our view, prima facie violates the principles of natural justice.''

The Bench referred to earlier judgments by the Supreme Court and the High Court on the question whether a sentence of imprisonment passed by an Assembly could be challenged. It said it was prima facie satisfied that the arrest made on the basis of the Assembly resolution, which was said to be in violation of the rights guaranteed under Articles 20 (2), 21 and 22 (2), could be challenged on the same premises.

The Bench said that in the case of Santa Singh vs. the State of Punjab, the Supreme Court held that the provision in Section 235 (2) Cr.P.C. was in consonance with the modern trends in penology and sentencing procedure. In the case of K. Anbazhagan, etc, vs. the Secretary, Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, a Division Bench of the High Court held that a matter arising out of a breach of privilege was exclusively within the jurisdiction of the legislature and Article 212 (of the Constitution) foreclosed any scrutiny by the court. In that case, the Bench did not go into the question of protection guaranteed under Article 21 and whether the failure to follow a fair procedure to give an opportunity to the detenu was deprivation of his guaranteed right.

In the case of A.M. Paulraj vs. the Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker, a Full Bench held that the challenge to a committal order passed on the ground of breach of privilege could be questioned as violative of Article 21 and the petition could not be thrown out at the threshold. However, the Bench held that a decision taken without a hearing could not be challenged on grounds of irregularity or violation of the right guaranteed under Article 21.

The Full Bench referred to Assembly rule 255, which enabled a member to give notice of an amendment or as to the mentioning of a matter for consideration, etc. In that case, the amendment moved in the legislature was withdrawn and, therefore, it was held that the legislature decision could not be questioned by virtue of Article 212 (1). But the very issue was now referred for consideration by the Supreme Court, the Division Bench said.