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SC allows 15 rebel MLAs the choice not to participate in trust vote

In a big victory for Karnataka rebels, the CJI-led Supreme Court bench has allowed the 15 rebel MLAs the choice not to participate in trust vote proceedings on July 18. The Court said that they shall not be compelled to sit in the House during proceedings. In effect, they will not be disqualified if they don’t obey their party whip during the trust vote taken by the HD Kumaraswamy government.

On the issue of their resignation,  the Court gave liberty to Speaker to decide on the resignation of 15 MLAs within the time he chooses.  As and when it is decided the same shall be placed before the apex Court. It said that the speaker can’t be compelled to take a decision within a limited time frame.

SC also made it clear that the discretion of Karnataka Assembly speaker in deciding resignation should not be fettered by direction or observations of courtThe weighty issues with regard to whether Speaker has to decide resignation or disqualification first has been kept open and may be decided at a later stage.

Today’s order is an interim arrangement made by the court considering the emergent situation arising due to the trust vote on Thursday.Interestingly the Court has not spelt out what the speaker has to do with the disqualification pleas.

Earlier court had directed the Speaker not to decide either on the resignation or disqualification pertaining to 10 out of 15 MLAs. The petition was originally filed by 10 rebel MLAs. Later 5 more joined.  The Court permitted them to be party to these proceedings by today’s order.

On Tuesday, a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi sought to know what stopped the Speaker from acting on the resignation letters on July 11 when the top court had arranged a meeting of the rebel legislators with the Speaker. The bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, questioned the Speaker’s reluctance to act on the resignations pending with him since July 6. The bench said that had the Speaker acted in time, the legislators would not have approached the SC.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi who argued for the Speaker said that the Speaker has to be given time to inquire whether the resignation is a ploy to avoid disqualification, when both are simultaneously pending before him.

But senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan who argued for Chief Minister Kumaraswamy put it bluntly that the MLAs were “hunting in packs”, wandering around to somehow bring down the government by hiding and walking with the Opposition. “Should this not be seen by the Speaker,” Dhavan asked. The rebel MLAs led by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi said that by dragging his feet over the issue, the Speaker wants to protect a government which has otherwise lost the support of the majority.

Under Article 190, once resignation is submitted, it must be accepted immediately, Rohatgi submitted, adding that by delaying action, the sword of disqualification pending against the MLAs is kept hanging to force them to support in the trust vote motion.

Rohatgi submitted that the Speaker must be directed to decide on the resignations within a day or else the rebel legislators should not be allowed to attend the House proceeding on Thursday.

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