SC judgement

Supreme Court has upheld the Karnataka Speaker’s orders disqualifying 17 defectors this year. At the same time, it has allowed the former legislators to contest the December 5 by-elections to 15 Assembly seats.

What is the implication of the judgement?

The former Janata Dal (S) and Congress MLAs are now free not only to contest the polls, but may reap the benefits of getting a ticket from the ruling BJP. Most of them had tried to resign from their respective parties in July, but the move was seen as a transparent ploy to bring down the JD(S)-Congress regime of H.D. Kumaraswamy.

What was the Speaker action?

The then Speaker, K.R. Ramesh Kumar, refused to act on their resignations. Ultimately, he disqualified all of them in orders passed on July 25 and 28 and said the disqualification would go on till 2023 — the end of the current Assembly’s term.

The Speaker’s stance was quite controversial as it appeared to create a conflict between resignation and disqualification. He now stands partially vindicated as his argument that resignation could not be used to evade an impending disqualification has been accepted. The Speaker was also hoping to keep the defectors out of any alternative regime as members disqualified for defection are barred from becoming ministers until they get re-elected.

What is the SC interpretation?

The court’s exposition of the law relating to the interplay between resignation and defection is quite welcome. On the one hand, resignation does not take away the effect of a prior act that amounts to disqualification. On the other, Speakers are not given a free pass to sit on resignation letters indefinitely. Under Article 190(3), a provision under which the Speaker has to ascertain the “voluntary” and “genuine” nature of a resignation before accepting it, the court is clear that it is a limited inquiry, only to see if the letter is authentic and if the intent to quit is based on free will. “Once it is demonstrated that a member is willing to resign out of his free will, the Speaker has no option but to accept the resignation,” the court has said.

This effectively ends the argument that the Speaker is empowered to consider the motives and circumstances whenever a resignation is submitted. The verdict bemoans the fact that Speakers sometimes tend not to be neutral, and that change of loyalty for the lure of office continues despite the anti-defection law. Identifying its weak aspects and strengthening the law may be the answer.

Source: The Hindu

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance