Need to ensure the 16 Cong MLAs are at free will: SC

Updated: 19 March, 2020 09:18 IST | Agencies | New Delhi

It is their choice whether they want to enter, comply with whips etc. But certainly, when allegation is that they are being held in captivity, we have to see they are at free will

BJP National Vice President, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, comes out after submitting a memorandum to Governor Lalji Tandon demanding an immediate floor test, at Raj Bhawan in Bhopal, on Monday. Pic/PTI
BJP National Vice President, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, comes out after submitting a memorandum to Governor Lalji Tandon demanding an immediate floor test, at Raj Bhawan in Bhopal, on Monday. Pic/PTI

The Supreme Court Wednesday did not agree to the proposal of former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan that the 16 rebel Congress MLAs be produced in the court tomorrow and said it wanted to "allay the apprehension" that they are held captive. Observing that the MLAs may or may not go to the Assembly but they cannot be held captive, a bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta said it was not going to come in the way of the legislature to decide as to who enjoys the trust but has to ensure that there is a free exercise of choice which these 16 MLAs can make. "It is their choice whether they want to enter, comply with whips etc. But certainly, when allegation is that they are being held in captivity, we have to see they are at free will.

These 16 either proceed to the floor or don't but surely they can't be held captive and how do we ensure this," the bench asked. When the counsel for Chouhan and the rebel MLAs asserted that they are in Bengaluru at their own free will, the bench said, "We are not saying they are held captive. Our concern is to ally the apprehension." At the fag end of the hearing, the bench put a poser to the Speaker as to whether he will decide on the resignations of MLAs if they appear before him tomorrow and observed, "a latest judgement asks the Speaker to decide quickly. Tell us when will you decide". To this, senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for the speaker, said: "I don't want the Speaker's discretion to be curtailed. I can inform about it tomorrow morning." Senior advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the 16 rebel MLAs, intervened: "We do not want to appear before the Speaker. It is a question of our safety." The court would resume hearing on Thursday at 10.30 AM. The bench declined the offer of the rebel Congress MLAs and of Chouhan that either they be allowed to appear in the court or the Registrar General of the Karnataka HC be allowed to meet them to ensure that they are not captive. "As a constitutional court, we have to discharge our duties," said the bench, adding, as of now it knows that the 16 rebel MLAs in Madhya Pradesh tilt the balance one way or the other.

The court asked lawyers to assist it on modalities for ensuring free access to the Assembly and choice. The bench was hearing cross petitions filed by Chouhan and the Congress on the ongoing political crisis in the state after 22 rebel MLAs of the ruling combine purportedly offered to resign. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Chouhan, offered to produce all the 16 rebel MLAs in the judges' chamber, which the court denied. He also said that as an alternative, Registrar General of Karnataka High Court could go and meet the rebel MLAs on Thursday and video record everything. Rohatgi questioned maintainability of the Congress plea and said how can a political party ask for access to rebel MLAs in their petition. The problem is Congress wants the rebel MLAs to go to Bhopal so that they can be lured and it can do horse trading, he said. The rebel MLAs told the bench that they were ready to face consequences as per the Constitution and expressed their unwillingness to meet Congress leaders. "Speaker cannot sit on our resignations.

Can he choose to accept some resignations and not others because political game is going on?", asked the MLAs. Singh, appearing for rebel MLAs, said their right to resign was constitutional and asked what was the corresponding duty of the Speaker for accepting resignations. Singh said all these MLAs held a press conference declaring that the decisions they took was based on their own free will and the same has been sworn in their affidavits as well. "We aren't abducted and are producing this evidence in a CD to the court. We don't want to meet the Congress leaders, there is no principle of law to compel us," the MLAs told the bench. Earlier in the day, the Congress sought trust vote in the state Assembly to be deferred till by-polls for the vacant seats are concluded, saying "heavens are not going to fall" if its government led by Kamal Nath is allowed to remain in office till then. The contention was opposed by Rohatgi saying, after the resignations of 22 Congress MLAs, out of which six resignations have been accepted, the state government should not be allowed to continue even for a day. The Madhya Pradesh Congress Legislature party (MPCLP) had Tuesday moved the Supreme Court seeking direction to the Centre and the BJP-led Karnataka government to grant it access to communicate with its rebel MLAs allegedly kept at Bengaluru.

The court had on Tuesday asked the Kamal Nath government to respond by Wednesday to a plea by senior BJP leader Chouhan seeking immediate floor test in the Assembly. It will file the reply on Thursday. The plea filed by Chouhan and nine BJP lawmakers was moved in the top court just after the Speaker cited coronavirus concerns and adjourned the House till March 26 without taking the floor test apparently defying the directions of Governor Lalji Tandon. On Saturday night, Tandon wrote to Nath asking him to seek trust vote in the Assembly soon after the Governor's address on Monday, saying his government was in minority. After the Speaker accepted the resignation of six Congress MLAs on Saturday, the party now has 108 legislators. These include 16 rebel legislators who have also put in their papers but their resignations are yet to be accepted. The BJP has 107 seats in the House, which now has an effective strength of 222, with the majority mark being 112.

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First Published: 19 March, 2020 09:12 IST

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