COMPOSITION OF THE BENCH: THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA- CONSTITUTION BENCH (3 JUDGES)
NAME OF JUDGES: HON’BLE N.V RAMANA, SANJIV KHANNA, KRISHNA MURARI, JJ.
AREA OF LAW: This constitutional law case deals in anti –defection law mentioned in schedule 10 of the constitution and 52nd amendment 1985 . It entails the power of speaker in adjudicating the case of 17 dissident MLA
In the present landmark case 3 judge bench ascertained the writ petion filed against the powers of the speaker of the legislative assembly and how anti-defection laws are formulated and the disqualification proceedings.. The 15th Karnataka legislative assembly elections were conducted where Bhartiya Janta party was declared the largest party among Congress, Indian national Congress and JD’S.
Further two minority parties namely Indian National Congress and JD’s joined hands and formed a coalition government under the patronage of Mr Kumaraswamy which existed for 14 months. Subsequently the Chief Minister resigned as he couldn’t gain the trust of votes to declare majority. The MLA’s were disqualified from the 16th Karnataka assembly elections by the speaker under the anti-defection law.Proceedings for disqualification of the members were initiated against Ramesh L Jarkhiholi, Mahesh Iranagaud Kumathalli, Umesh G. Jadhav and B . Nagendra and other members as they did not participate in assembly and the meetings of the party which desecrated the congress party whip .
The speaker K.R Ramesh issued two distinct orders under the law disqualifying the members from the house and barring them to contest elections. The speaker outrightly denied any intimation of the resignation by the said members . 15 out of the 17 members had given their resignation before any disqualification proceeding initiated against them.
Aggrieved by the speaker’s non acceptance of their resignations, a writ petition under Article 32 of the constitution was filed. The issues which were raised were whether the writ was maintainable and whether the disqualification proceedings of the members were in accordance with the constitution . Supreme court stated that members cannot be induced to participate in the assembly elections and their resignation must be decided by the speaker in a particular time frame.
It was held that the speaker is a ‘quasi judicial authority’ and thus the writ though maintainable under article 32 should first be petitioned in the High court under article 226 of the constitution. The speaker role is limited in only adjudicating whether the resignation has some veracity or was farce. Voluntary resignations without any undue pressure cannot be contested and the speaker had to accept such resignation. Speaker doesn’t have the prerogative to disqualify the members till the end of the term, though the members here were disqualified but the duration was set aside and were not barred from recontesting elections. Kihoto Hollan v. Zachillhu and others decision was followed to analyse various contexts of the 52nd amendment inserted by the 10th schedule of the constitution .It enumerated the role of the speaker in disqualification proceedings.
JURISDICTION: The Supreme court had the jurisdiction over the case by the way of original jurisdiction . A writ petition was filed under article 32 of the constitution which paved the way for the 3 judge bench to decide over the matter.
QUESTION OF LAW: The case in its true virtue revolves around the anti- defection law in the 10th schedule of the constitution which added the 52nd amendment, 1985 . It also revolves around the Representation of People act, 1951.
RELIANCE ON RELEVANT STATUES: Constitution of India, 1950(article 191(1) in the constitution of India and 191(2) ( Article 32 of the constitution)
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LEGAL ISSUES OF DETERMINATION: The main contention here is of the disqualification of the elected representatives of the assembly on the defection grounds as given under the 10th schedule of the constitution. Representation of people act,1951 and neither the schedule 10 of the constitution bar the members from contesting the elections in the end of the term. Also the 91st amendment doesn’t give the right to the speaker to bar the members from elections. However they can be subjected to sanctions under 75(1B), 164(1B) and 361(1B) of the constitution which bars the members to hold any remunerative post till the date of end term of the disqualification.
NATURE OF THE ISSUES: The prominent issue that the case is based upon is the ambit of the speaker adjudication and disqualification of the members and whether they can be blocked from participating in the upcoming elections and the interpretation of the 10th schedule. The decision was based on precedents and revolved around the analysis of the 52nd amendment of the constitution.
METHODOLOGY OFJUDGING THE ISSUES INVOVLED: Here all the judges agreed unanimously regarding the role of the speaker and recontestation of the elections till the end of the assembly term.
OPINION OF THE COURT: The opinion of the court was undisputed .Justice N.V. Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari provided their own interpretation citing various statues and case laws to rapport the majority judgement .
REASONING AND DECISION: The 3- judge bench comprising of Justice N.V Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari upheld the speaker of the Karnataka’s legislative assembly order of disqualification of the 17 dissident MLA’s who filed a writ petition under article 32 of the constitution. Though the reasoning provided was that the members will be disqualified but cannot be barred from contesting elections further till the end of the current assembly term.
Hence it was held that the disqualified members of the assembly can contest in the by elections. Here the petitioners argued that there was gross injustice and the principles of natural justice has been jeopardized as the speaker of the assembly states that the resignation was voluntary on party of the speakers and only 3 days notice were provided to the petitioners under the rule 7(3)(b) of the Karnataka legislative assembly (disqualification of members on grounds of defection) 1986.
Here the court held that principles of natural justice must be kept at a highest pedestal and cannot be violated though the principles cannot be breached in all circumstances. Court further added to the reasoning that the speaker of the assembly is erroneous and only the disqualification can be further proceeded and not all the orders in its entirety.
Court disregarded the petitioners contention of the speaker orders being malafide and held that speaker based his order on the base of the evidence and procedure laid down under the 10th schedule of the constitution. The court stressed that the speaker doesn’t have the power to disqualify the members of the assembly till the end of the term i.e. 2023 though the disqualified members can be subjected to certain sanctions as outlined in the 10the schedule under articles 164(1B), 361 B, 75(1B) of the constitution which mandated not to hold any remunerative posts from the date when the disqualification of the member commences.
The court also reiterated the principles laid down by the 91st amendment. The judges agreed on the relativity of the petition and held the follow the hierarchy of courts and approach the high court first under the article 226 of the constitution.
RATIO OF THE MAJORITY OPINION: The ratio of the judgement seems to be upholding the constitutional morality and the principles of natural justice. It interprets the 10th schedule and decides the power of the speaker and how anti-defection rile should be analysed for better working of the government.17 MLA’S revolt led to the collapse of the ongoing government of Janata-dal-congress coalition that the 10th schedule doesn’t give power to the speaker to either enumerate the time-frame the member is disqualified or to bar them from contesting elections.
Also sufficient opportunities should be given to the members to present their views and outlook by following the concept of natural justice before the disqualification and the onus of proof to present the mala fide intention of the speaker would be on the petitioners. The date of disqualification commences when the defection has taken place. The decision to disqualify 17 MLA’ was upheld but were allowed to contest by-polls , rejecting their disqualification till 2023 end of term. The court also reiterated that the speaker has to be neutral in all virtues and have to disassociate himself from any party to curb the bias.
NEW RULINGS OR PRINCIPLES: The new ruling adumbrated the well structured analysis of the 10th schedule and also laid down the precedent for any other defection that might occur.The phenomenon of defection has been surfacing India from time immemorial, the most prominent case being of Gaya Lal . The 10 schedule was added to subdue the political defection and thus disqualifies the members on the basis of going against the whip or condoning the voting procedure.
This historic judgment transformed the responsibility of the speaker in handling the defection and cleared out the ambiguity that resignation is not one of the condition of disqualification which the members exploited. The court held the power of the speaker to be discretionary and a quasi-judicial authority and therefore subjected to judicial review under article 137 of the constitution.
AIM OF THE MAJORITY VIEW: The aim of the majority was to highlight how defection has been a blot to the political structure and how its being misused. Though it also outlines the command of the speaker in dealing with the disqualification . It upheld the principle of natural justice which cannot be jeopardized in any circumstances.
Its endeavour was to define the role of speaker and insisted on the unbiasness of the speaker while dealing with the disqualification. It paved the way of not fully barring the dissident members from contesting elections but put a little constraint to bring about the consequences of disqualification.
PRESENT STATUS OF THE RULING: The judgment being relatively new has explained he shortcomings of the defection and its outcome. The rationale of the judgment has been further used in comprehending the function of the speaker and anti-defection law as in the Madhya Pradesh defection case.
REMARKS: The landmark judgment is the pedestal from where every defection case would be evaluated. It set down the rulings of an archaic amendment that had certain lacunas. It provided loopholes to both the members as well as speaker. The recent judgement pacified such discrepancy. The judgement also stated that speakers should not be prejudiced and partial and the members should abstain from defection and follow the legitimate constitutional mandate.
Authors: Shivam Shukla and Anukriti Rastogi from Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad.