HC verdict in 18 MLAs’ disqualification case today

The Madras High Court will deliver its verdict on a batch of petitions challenging the disqualification of 18 dissident AIADMK MLAs owing allegiance to AMMK leader T.T.V. Dhinakaran on Thursday. The verdict, to be delivered by a bench of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M. Sundar, could alter the political course of Tamil Nadu with the Edappadi K. Palaniswami government short of a simple majority in the House, which has an approved strength of 234 (excluding the nominated Anglo Indian member). The court had reserved verdict in the case on January 23.

On September 18, 2017, Speaker P. Dhanapal had disqualified the 18 MLAs by exercising his powers under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution (popularly known as anti-defection law) and the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly (Disqualification on ground of defection) Rules of 1986.

The trigger for the disqualification proceedings was the meeting between the 18 petitioners (apart from one more MLA S.T.K. Jakkaiyan who subsequently joined the ruling camp) and the then Governor (in-charge) C. Vidyasagar Rao on August 22, 2017, when the former gave identical representations to him “withdrawing their support” to the Chief Minister.

The meeting and subsequent press briefing by the MLAs prompted the Chief Government Whip S. Rajendiran to petition the Speaker on August 24 praying for disqualification of all 19 MLAs saying their act amounted to voluntarily giving up membership of the AIADMK party.

In their defence, the petitioners contended that mere submission of representations to the Governor would not amount to voluntarily giving up membership of the party. They also heavily relied upon a judgment passed by the Supreme Court in Balchandra L Jarkiholi versus B.S. Yeddiyurappa case in 2011.

Speaker’s ruling

However, after receiving the comments of the Chief Minister and after completing the enquiry, the Speaker held that 18 out of the 19 MLAs were liable to be disqualified.

Mr. Jakkaiyyan alone was let off since he met the speaker in person on September 17 and handed over a letter claiming that he was pressured to submit the representation to the Governor.

Thangatamilselvan (Andipatti constituency), R. Murugan (Harur), S. Mariappan Kennedy (Manamadurai), K. Karthirkamu (Periyakulam), C. Jayanthi Padmanabhan (Gudiyattam), P. Palaniappan (Pappireddipatti), V. Senthilbalaji (Aravakurichi), S. Muthiah (Paramakudi), P. Vetrivel (Perambur), N.G. Parthiban (Sholingur), M. Kothandapani (Tiruporur), T.A. Elumalai (Poonnamalee), M. Rengasamy (Thanjavur), R. Thangathurai (Nilakottai), R. Balasubramani (Ambur), Ethirkottai S.G. Subramanian (Sattur), R. Sundaraj (Ottapidaram) and K. Uma Maheswari (Vilathikulam) were disqualified.

Speaker challenged

They challenged the Speaker’s decision in the court. Initially, Justice M. Duraiswamy heard the writ petitions along with a few other cases including a writ petition filed by DMK leader M.K. Stalin seeking a direction to hold a floor test, and passed an interim order on September 20 restraining the conduct of floor test and also elections to the 18 constituencies that fell vacant in view of the disqualifications, until further orders.

Subsequently, the cases were shifted to Justice K. Ravichandrabaabu (on account of change of portfolio), who, in November last, referred all the cases to a Division Bench in view of the constitutional issues involved in them. It was only thereafter that the matters were heard by the first Division Bench over a period of three months before the verdict was reserved.

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