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SC Refuses to Stay Disqualification of 6 Congress MLAs in Himachal Pradesh

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to postpone the disqualification of six Congress members from the Himachal Pradesh legislature who incurred the wrath of their party for cross voting in the Rajya Sabha election and were expelled by speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania on February 29.

The court posted their petition in May to consider whether the fresh bye-election to the six vacant seats announced by Election Commission needs to be stayed.

“We will issue a notice, but we are sure we cannot stay the disqualification as they (petitioners) will not be allowed to vote or participate in the House proceedings,” a bench headed by justice Sanjiv Khanna said.

Posting the matter in the week commencing May 6, the bench, also comprising justice Dipankar Datta, said, “We are on the second part whether there should be stay on fresh elections as the petition will then become infructuous.”

Senior advocates Harish Salve and Maninder Singh appearing for the disqualified MLAs pointed out that the EC has announced simultaneous polls to the six assembly seats along with the last phase of Lok Sabha polls on June 1.

“I am entitled for a stay. If elections are held, I cannot be told that you cannot come in. My petition will become infructuous,” Salve said.

The bench observed, “When we issue notice, EC may itself delay. That normally happens… In view of the fresh elections, this may be an issue whether to decide the matter before the elections or we don’t allow fresh elections.”

The court also voiced concerns over the larger interest behind the 6 constituencies going unrepresented. “There is no question of a stay at present as some portion of the state is remaining unrepresented in the House,” the judges remarked, while seeking response from the secretary of the state legislative assembly. Notices were also issued to Pathania and Congress chief whip and state parliamentary affairs minister Harsh Vardhan Chauhan.

The six former members of HP legislative assembly – Chaitanya Sharma, Davinder Kumar Bhutto, Inder Dutt Lakhanpal, Rajinder Rana, Ravi Thakur, and Sudhir Sharma – called the action taken against them as “illegal” and in violation of principles of natural justice.

They were disqualified under the anti-defection law for cross voting and going against the party whip to vote in favour of Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi for the lone Rajya Sabha seat election held on February 27.

Singhvi, who appeared on behalf of Chauhan, said, “This court may only issue notice. Once the elections are notified, Article 329 has kicked in. There is no question that the Court will stay the election process. There is also no question of stay of disqualification.”

Representing the state assembly, senior advocate Kapil Sibal pointed out that the Speaker has been named individually by the petitioners. “They have named the Speaker in person. The court may direct the response to be filed by the legislative secretary of the assembly.”

The ousted MLAs opposed the request alleging “malafide” against the Speaker. The court permitted Sibal’s request while directing the responses to be filed in four weeks and the response to be filed within one week by the petitioners.

Senior advocate SP Jain, also appearing for the petitioners, told the court that though the EC has announced the schedule for elections to the six seats, the process of filing nominations is still far off – May 7. He requested the court to decide the matter at an earlier date, which the court refused.

Congress suffered a setback in the Rajya Sabha election as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Harsh Mahajan defeated Singhvi. The voting ended in a tie with the 40-member strong Congress polling only 34 votes. Even Mahajan polled equal number of votes as the six Congress MLAs cross voted, adding to the BJP’s tally of 25 votes along with three Independents. The result was subsequently determined by the draw of lots where Mahajan was declared winner.

“The order dated February 29 has been passed in complete derogation of principles of natural justice and has been passed in a hasty manner and is not sustainable in the eyes of law and is in fact against the provisions of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution (anti-defection law),” the ousted Congress MLAs said in their petition before the top court.

The plea further stated that the Speaker’s order was “pre-meditated and suffers from illegality in as much as it was decided with a pre-determined mind.” It said, “Respondent 2 (Pathania) has failed to appreciate the facts and law on the point and the same has been passed only to serve the purposes of his original party Congress (I) and his political bosses.”

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(Source: HT)

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