Sibal argued that the presiding officer’s right to call and conduct the disqualification proceeding cannot be meddled with by the court; at most the speaker can be asked to rule upon the proceedings within a time frame.
In a setback to the Congress party, the Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stop the Rajasthan High Court from pronouncing its decision on Friday on a petition by 19 rebel MLAs led by sacked deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot against the Speaker’s disqualification notices given to them for defying the party. A Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra while refusing to stay the HC proceedings, however, said that the HC’s decision will be subject to the final orders of the apex court. It also questioned as to why the Speaker, a neutral person, should approach the court at all. “It is the matter of just one day. Why can’t you wait,” the judges said.
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“Can a person elected by people not express his dissent? Assume a leader has lost the faith of persons. While remaining in the party they cannot be disqualified. Then this will become a tool and no one can raise their voice. The voice of dissent cannot be suppressed. In a democracy, can somebody be shut down like this?” Justice Arun Misha told senior counsel Kapil Sibal, who appeared for the Rajasthan Assembly Speaker CP Joshi.
Posting the matter for further hearing on Monday, the judges said, “We will only hear the question whether the court can interfere with the Speaker’s proceedings or not. We will not go into whether the Speaker acted mala fide or bona fide. We cannot go into that.”
Joshi had on Wednesday moved the top court against the HC’s order that restrained him till July 24 from deciding the disqualification notices he had issued to the group of 19 rebel MLAs led by Pilot. The HC had also restrained the Speaker from conducting disqualification proceedings against the dissidents.
Sibal argued that the presiding officer’s right to call and conduct the disqualification proceeding cannot be meddled with by the court; at most the speaker can be asked to rule upon the proceedings within a time frame. He said the issue as to whether the disqualification process is permissible or not cannot be taken note of by the court at this stage. “Our grievance is purely constitutional and there cannot be any order till decision is taken by the Speaker,” he argued, adding that courts could only intervene when the Speaker takes a decision to suspend or disqualify a member of the House.
The Pilot camp, represented by senior counsel Harish Salve, argued that if a group of MLAs “raise their voices against style of functioning of the Chief Minister, that is not defection.” “Defection is when you leave Party A and joint Party B. Protesting against the party while staying within the party cannot be regarded as giving up party membership,” the senior lawyer said, adding that “intra-party dissent however shrill it may be, until the moment it goes to the extent of supporting another party, cannot be a ground to even start disqualification proceedings under Tenth schedule of the Constitution.”
He further said that the party whip applied only when the Assembly is in session and issuing such a notice is a violation of their freedom of expression. The Speaker had served disqualification notices to 19 rebel MLAs including Sachin Pilot for “anti-party activities” after they skipped two meetings of Congress MLAs. The Congress party had complained and had accused the rebel lawmaker of trying to topple the Ashok Gehlot government. Pilot was also sacked as deputy chief minister and the president of the state unit of the party after he rebelled against Gehlot.