Karnataka – Precedents loaded in favour of Speaker

published on October 11, 2010

Abraham Thomas | New Delhi – Daily Pioneer

The political crisis facing the disqualified rebel BJP legislators and independent MLAs in Karnataka has rich legal precedents that support the action of the Speaker in the latest case.

In the past, the Supreme Court in two significant rulings has upheld the Speaker’s powers to disqualify even independent MLAs under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, for any act that caused their independent status to be lost in the House. About members of a political party who turn rebels, the apex court in a recent decision held that siding with the rebel political groups in a bid to recommend change of guard in the State to the Governor, would be sufficient ground to disqualify them.

The Tenth Schedule specifically provides for disqualification on two grounds – voluntarily giving up the party’s membership or defying political whip, both apply to members who get elected on a party ticket. Independents, however would only incur disqualification if they join another party.

In 2006, the scope of the Speaker’s powers to disqualify independent legislators came up for elaborate discussion in the case Jagjit Singh v State of Haryana. A three-judge Bench came to the conclusion that to disqualify an independent MLA, it was not essential to gather evidence that he formally had joined a political party or deposited fee of registration with a political outfit. Any act that could suggest that he no more retained his independent status in the House was sufficient to disqualify him.

Deciding the case against the four independent MLAs who got disqualified by Haryana Speaker in June 2004, the Bench said, “We are of the view that to determine whether an independent member has joined a political party, the test is not whether he has fulfilled the formalities for joining a political party. The test is whether he has given up his independent character on which he was elected by the electorate.” This fact has to be gathered by the Speaker after an appreciation of material on record.

Around the same time, a similar question of law arose in Uttar Pradesh, where 13 MLAs of Bahujan Samaj Party split from the party and joined the rival Samajwadi Party. They met the Governor along with Samajwadi Party leaders to demand installation of a new Government, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Faulting the Speaker for his actions, the apex court in the Rajendra Singh Rana v Swami Prasad Maurya case felt that the Speaker ought to have decided on the disqualification first when there existed a clear ground for disqualification against the rebel BSP MLAs. A five-judge Constitution Bench on February 14, 2007 said, “The act of giving a letter requesting the Governor to call upon the leader of the other side to form a Government itself would amount to an act of voluntarily giving up the membership of the party on whose ticket the said members had got elected.”

It is noteworthy that the facts in the present case concerning the rebel BJP MLAs having met the Karnataka Governor seeking formation of a new Government would fall suspect under this apex court decision. It may be up to the courts to assess what material existed to hold an adverse finding against the independent MLAs. However, there is a grey area that promises to hold hope for the disqualified legislators. On the issue whether the Governor could disqualify any member of legislature without prior notice to him is pending decision with the apex court since 2007.

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