The Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that a lawmaker has the right to resign from his post and that the same would not amount to defection.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta supported the right of an MLA to resign and backed current Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri while making submissions in the petitions filed by 17 ex-MLAs of Karnataka challenging their disqualification by the former Speaker of the Assembly.
Mehta, representing the office of the Karnataka Assembly Speaker, told a three-judge bench headed by Justice NV Ramana that an MLA can be disqualified for giving up membership of a political party but he or she cannot be disqualified for giving up membership of the House.
Mehta argued this when the bench, also comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari, was hearing a batch of pleas filed by 17 disqualified Karnataka MLAs, who have challenged the decision of former Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar to disqualify them.
"Probably, this may happen frequently and travel beyond these 17 persons. Right to resign is a right recognised by this court in a Constitution bench verdict," the solicitor general told the bench, adding that tendering resignation is a "democratic right because the person wants to go back to the electorate". Mehta stated that the first and foremost duty of duty of legislators is towards their constituency.
"I cannot be critical of what has happened in the past in this case but it may happen very frequently and the issue needs to be adjudicated. It's high time that the judiciary lay down guidelines for the speaker," Mehta was quoted as saying by PTI.
However, the bench said the courts cannot lay down guidelines for Speakers. "How can we lay down guidelines for the Speaker? He is a constitutional authority," the bench said, adding, "we cannot encroach in his domain."
Mehta, while referring to a Constitution bench verdict of the apex court, said that in case an MLA does not agree with his party’s views and resigns from the membership of the house, he/she can return to the electorate and seek a fresh mandate. He said if an MLA tenders his resignation, the only thing which the speaker has to see is whether it is voluntary or not.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for some of the disqualified MLAs, opposed the decision of the then speaker and said there is no rule that the disqualification has to be decided first and resignation kept pending. The upcoming bypolls to 15 assembly constituencies in Karnataka should be stayed or deferred till the top court decides this issue and alternatively, the disqualification order should also be stayed, he said.
"We (disqualified MLAs) do not want to go to the electorate with this taint of disqualification," the advocate said, adding that these petitioners should be allowed to contest the bypolls.
Senior advocate Aryama Sundaram challenged the disqualification order and held that the speaker has limited scope to examine whether or not the resignations tendered by the MLAs are voluntary and genuine.
Apart from Sundaram, senior advocate V Giri, appearing for two disqualified MLAs, also questioned the then speaker's decision and said one of his clients had not resigned but still he was disqualified.
The Election Commission had on September 23 told the top court that the former speaker's order disqualifying these 17 MLAs cannot deprive them of their right to contest by-polls. The poll panel had said bypolls should not be stayed.
The then speaker disqualified these MLAs and it eventually led to fall of the Congress-JD(S) government headed by the then chief minister HD Kumaraswamy. Kumaraswamy resigned as chief minister after losing a trust vote, which paved the way for the BJP-led government in the state under B S Yediyurappa.
The disqualified lawmakers have approached the apex court, challenging former speaker Ramesh Kumar's decision to disqualify them. They also questioned Kumar's decision to reject their resignations by holding that those weren't voluntary and genuine.
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Updated Date: Sep 26, 2019 15:40:15 IST