The Supreme Court on Friday restrained Karnataka Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar from taking any decision on the resignation and disqualification of 10 rebel MLAs of the state’s ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition till next week Tuesday.
Citing “weighty issues that have arisen”, the bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said the matter will be considered by it on July 16 and status quo as of Friday should be maintained.
The bench specifically mentioned in the order that the speaker would not decide on the issue of the resignation or the disqualification of the rebel MLAs to enable the court to judge the larger issues raised during the hearing of the matter.
The bench noted in its order that the issue of maintainability of the rebel MLAs’ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution was raised by the speaker and Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy.
It said senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the rebel MLAs, countered the speaker’s submission that the disqualification plea of the ruling coalition in the southern state had to be decided before taking up the issue of resignation of the lawmakers.
Taking all these aspects and the incomplete facts before it into consideration, there was a need for further hearing, it said.
“In view of the weighty issues that have arisen, we are of the view that the matter is considered by us on Tuesday. We are of the view that the status quo as of today with regard to the prevailing situation be maintained. Neither the issue of resignation nor that of disqualification be decided till Tuesday,” the bench said.
Rohatgi alleged that the speaker has not decided on the resignations of the lawmakers and the idea behind keeping the issue alive and pending was to bind them with the party whip.
“Speaker can be given one or two days to decide on the issue of resignations. If he still does not decide, contempt notice can be issued against him,” Rohatgi said.
Referring to constitutional provisions, Rohatgi said legislative and other businesses conducted by the speaker in the house are immune from judicial scrutiny but the issue of resignations are not.
The bench asked if the speaker had the power to challenge the Supreme Court’s order. It posed the question when senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Kumar, said the assembly speaker also held a constitutional post and was obligated to decide on the disqualification as well.
“I am constitutionally obligated to decide on the plea for disqualification of MLAs also,” Singhvi said.
“Speaker is a very senior member of the assembly and he knows the constitutional law. He can’t be maligned and lampooned like this,” he added.
Singhvi, also a Congress leader, said the speaker was “duty-bound and empowered” to decide the issue of disqualification of the rebel MLAs first.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the chief minister, said the apex court had passed an “ex-parte” order without issuing a notice to the speaker.
Several corruption allegations against the state government have been levelled in the plea of the rebel MLAs while securing a judicial order, Dhavan said. One of the rebel MLAs was involved in a Ponzi scam for which the government is being accused, he added.
“Speaker has the responsibility to satisfy himself that resignations were voluntary. The Supreme Court order was passed without hearing the other side, what can the speaker do in such a situation,” said Dhavan.
On Thursday, the top court asked the speaker to decide “forthwith” the issue of the resignation of 10 rebel MLAs, allowing them to meet him in Bengaluru at 6 pm.
It also directed the Karnataka director general of police to provide protection to the rebel MLAs from Bengaluru airport to the Assembly after their arrival from Mumbai.
The speaker, through his counsel, also moved the apex court for modification of the direction asking him to decide the issue of the resignation in the course of the day.
The 10 rebel MLAs moved the apex court alleging that the speaker was not accepting their resignations.
The MLAs who have filed the petition are Pratap Gouda Patil, Ramesh Jarkiholi, Byrati Basavaraj, BC Patil, S T Somashekhar, Arbail Shivaram Hebbar, Mahesh Kumathalli, K Gopalaiah, A H Vishwanath and Narayana Gowda.
In all, 16 MLAs (13 from Congress and three from JD-S) have quit pushing the coalition government to the brink of collapse. Two independent MLAs have also withdrawn support to the 13-month-old coalition government.