The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the disqualification of 17 Congress-JD(S) MLAs in Karnataka on orders of the then Speaker but paved the way for them to contest the December 5 bypolls on 15 seats in the state.
The court struck down the portion of the order of then Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar by which the legislators were disqualified till the end of the term of the 15th Karnataka Assembly.
“We uphold the orders of the Speaker on disqualification,” a three-judge bench of justices N V Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari said.
“However, we have struck down the second part of the order which says disqualification till end of life of the current assembly,” the bench said.
The court said if elected in bypolls, these disqualified MLAs can become ministers or hold public office.
The apex court also said that a Speaker is not empowered to disqualify a member till the end of tenure of the assembly.
“It is clear that the speaker does not have power to either indicate the period of disqualification or to say that the person cannot contest election till the tenure of the assembly,” it said.
The bench deprecated the manner in which the disqualified MLAs directly approached it without first moving high court.
“We do not appreciate the manner in which the petitioners have approached this court,” the bench said, adding, “a party challenging a disqualification order is first required to approach the high court.”
The court said its verdict is based on facts and circumstance of the case and does not interfere in the Speaker’s power to disqualify members.
The bench said it has divided its order into five parts — maintainability of the petition, aspect of resignation, aspect of disqualification, power of speaker to disqualify a member and the question of reference to a larger bench.
The top court had reserved its verdict on October 25 on petitions filed by these disqualified MLAs challenging orders of Kumar to disqualify them.
Kumar had disqualified the 17 legislators of the ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition ahead of a trust vote in July.
The then chief minister H D Kumaraswamy had resigned after losing the trust vote, which paved the way for the BJP-led government in the state under B S Yediyurappa.
Bypolls to 15 out of these 17 assembly seats which fell vacant following the disqualification of MLAs are scheduled on December 5 and candidates are required to file their nomination papers between November 11 and November 18.
These disqualified MLAs recently approached the apex court seeking a direction to the Election Commission to postpone the assembly bypolls for these 15 seats till the pronouncement of verdict in the matter.
Some of these disqualified MLAs had argued in the apex court that they have an “indefeasible right” to resign as members of the assembly and the decision by the then Speaker to disqualify them smacks of “vengeance” and “mala fide”.
During arguments in the matter, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Karnataka Congress, had contended that the then Speaker, who was the master of the Assembly, had exercised his jurisdiction to disqualify these MLAs and his decision cannot be questioned.
Sibal had also submitted that “the matter needs to be referred to a Constitution bench as it raises matters of grave constitutional importance”.
The incumbent Karnataka Assembly Speaker had earlier told the top court that he has no difficulty in hearing these 17 MLAs and take a “fresh call” on the issue.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the office of the Karnataka Assembly Speaker, had submitted that under the scheme of Constitution, a lawmaker has a right to resign and the Speaker should accept it. The current Assembly Speaker is V Hegde Kageri.
The disqualified MLAs are: Pratap Gowda Patil, BC Patil, Shivram Hebbar, ST Somashekar, Byrati Basavaraj, Anand Singh, R Roshan Baig, N Munirathna, K Sudhakar and MTB Nagaraj, Shrimant Patil, Ramesh Jarkiholi, Mahesh Kumatalli and R Shankar (all Congress). JD(S) members who faced action are K Gopalaiah, AH Vishwanath and KC Narayana Gowda.