“I don’t want to be an MLA, I don’t want to be part of the House. Nobody can force me,” senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi told Supreme Court on behalf of 15 rebel MLAs who have filed a plea against Karnataka Assembly Speaker Ramesh Kumar for keeping their resignation on hold.
Rohatgi, on behalf of the MLAs, told the court that they do not want to defect, rather just resign and go back to public.
“By keeping the disqualification in abeyance, the speaker is forcing me to continue being part of the house and coercing me to sit in the house and vote in a particular way,” the MLAs told the court.
The MLAs said that they do not seek the court to quash disqualification proceedings. “Disqualification can go on. I am saying I don’t want to be an MLA. I don’t want to defect. I want to go back to public and do whatever I want to do,” the MLAs reiterated.
“Holding resignations is pressure tactic”: Mukul Rohatgi said that the government had no evidence against the MLAs to disqualify them, and thus, they were forcing MLAs to attend the assembly even after resignation.
“The trust vote is day after tomorrow [July 18]. Today or tomorrow there will be a fresh whip to attend the house and vote in the trust vote. If the MLAs don’t appear, the government will fall. The idea is about keeping us hanging. I have a sword of disqualification on me,” Rohatgi said.
Faulty grounds for disqualification: Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is heading the three-judge bench for the matter, inquired about the grounds for disqualification proceedings. To which, the senior advocate said that the disqualification laws apply when a whip is not followed.
“The disqualification is only if you have not been acting according to whip. Now they say you have not attended a meeting held outside the house. How is that grounds for disqualification? They are trying to fish, they have no material to prove anything,” he said.
Mukul Rohatgi argued that even if there were disqualification proceedings underway, that was not a reason to keep resignations on hold.
Rohatgi also contended that the speaker accepted MLA Umesh Jadhav’s resignation even when disqualification proceedings were pending against him.
Reason for resignation
“The fallacy of their argument is that it is based on my motive to resign which is completely irrelevant,” Rohatgi said, to which the CJI said that court cannot tell the Speaker on how to decide on resignations.
“We cannot say how the Speaker should decide resignation or disqualification of MLAs. We cannot fetter him. The question here is if there is any constitutional obligation for him to decide resignation before disqualification or to club his decision on both,” CJI Ranjajn Gogoi asked.
Mukul Rohatgi contented that the reason of resignation was relevant.
“There can be myriad reasons, several reasons why someone may decide to resign. They could be ill, sick of being part of politics. Reasons for resignation are irrelevant,” he said.
Precedence: Rohtagi quotes past cases of resignation vs disqualification
Quoting precedence, Mukul Rohatgi told the court, “There have been judgments from high courts allowing resignation to be decided first. Kerala, Goa and Tamil Nadu high court have granted same relief i the past.
“In the Kerala case the HC said resignation should be accepted immediately, even though speaker was scheduled to give order on disqualification application within two days,” he said.
Delay exhibits Speaker’ partiality
The rebel MLAs’ advocate claimed that “if Speaker does not decide on the resignation for some or the other reason, it would mean he is not impartial”.
“Speaker can’t say it’s “involuntary resignation” because I’ve initiated disqualification proceedings. Escaping disqualification is not involuntary resignation,” he said.
MLAs are not bureaucrat or public servant that they have to give reasons for resignation, the advocate said.
CJI Ranjan Gogoi asked what order the court can pass in such a situation.
The lawyer advised that the court can order the speaker to decide in a particular time frame. “The order from court will be similar to the order passed last week- order speaker to decide within a time frame,” Rohtagi suggested.
In May last year, the SC had directed the speaker to hold floor test within 24 hours just a few months ago, Rohtagi reminded the court, adding that similar orders were passed in Haryana case, where the speaker was told to conduct floor test within four months.
Disqualification, resignation not a race: Speaker
Appearing for Karnataka Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh, senior SC advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued that arguments made by rebel MLAs were incorrect as there cannot be a “resignation application before the disqualification petition.”
Singhvi, on behalf of the speaker, said that the MLAs cannot escape disqualification by resigning.
Reading previous judgements by constitutional benches in 2004 and 2009, Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued that disqualification comes in affect from the date of the act, which led to disqualification and not from the day the speaker decides on it.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi reminded the court that disqualification proceedings against the said MLAs have been pending since either February or July 10, which means that their resignation were either filed four months or a day after the defiance act.
The advocate contended that 11 of the 15 MLAs filed their proper resignations on July 11.
Resignations have to be given in person and in own handwriting. All cases of MLAs being physically present before Speaker on 11 July.
“The first step to start inquiry under Article 190 is for concerned MLA to appear before Speaker in person. In this case, that has happened on July 11,” Singhvi said.
“Eleven of the 15 MLAs handed over resignations personally to Speaker only on July 11. Four of the MLAs are yet to do so,” he said.
SC questions Speaker’s inaction
CJI Ranjan Gogoi questioned Speakr Ramesh Kumar’s inaction on resignation untill the court intervention. “The speaker didn’t do anything till the MLAs came to court? He was supposed to issue notice. What’s the reason for speaker not deciding?” CJI asked Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
The senior advocate argued that the speaker had sent a letter to them saying the resignation is not in proper format.
However, the CJI questioned the delay in decision after the resignations were handed over to him in the proper format.
The CJI said, “Why didn’t the speaker take a decision after the MLAs handed over the resignation to him on July 11? Why say that I cannot take a decision immediately?”
Singhavi replied that the speaker could not decide as there were severla violations.
“The MLAs never sought any appointment with him. There are several violations. How can the speaker be directed on how to take decision. Who will decide the format? Speaker has to decide,” he argued.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that if the MLA resigns a day befor ethe floor test, the act of resignation itself becomes grounds for disqualfication as it will be against the party’s interests.