New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday wondered if the notices issued to rebel Congress MLAs in Rajasthan by the state assembly Speaker would amount to shutting out of dissenting voices.
A three-judge bench led by Justice Arun Mishra posed the query even as it refused to restrain the Rajasthan High Court from ruling on the petition filed by former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and his 18 supporters against the disqualification notices issued by Rajasthan assembly Speaker C.P. Joshi.
The top court was hearing Joshi petition’s questioning the 21 July Rajasthan High Court order directing him to extend time given to the rebel MLAs to reply to the disqualification notices issued.
Representing Joshi, senior advocate Kapil Sibal said the high court cannot give such a direction in view of the 1992 Constitution Bench judgment of the Supreme Court that states courts cannot interdict the Speaker from proceeding before a final decision is taken.
“The question is can voices of dissent can be shut down like this? Can a person elected by the people not express his dissent? Voice of dissent cannot be suppressed… then democracy will shut,” said Justice Mishra, adding that the court will hear the matter at length.
The bench fixed Monday to hear the petition again and allowed the Rajasthan High Court to deliver its judgment on 19 Congress MLAs plea against the Speaker’s disqualification notice Friday. This means there is no bar on the high court from pronouncing the order or holding any further proceedings.
However, the Supreme Court said the high court verdict will be subject to the outcome of the top court’s decision.
Sibal said his client, Speaker Joshi, won’t give a final ruling on the disqualification petition.
‘Speaker’s plea raises important questions on democracy’
In his submissions on behalf of assembly Speaker Joshi, Sibal said the high court could not have directed him to extend the time given to the rebel MLAs.
Proceedings under the 10th schedule of the Constitution are proceedings before the Legislature and as such cannot be interfered with, he argued.
“There are allegations against the MLAs. They have given statements to the media. Why are they not replying to the notices? If they are voicing their opinion, they should come to party and explain,” Sibal said.
At this, the Supreme Court bench asked the senior counsel if a whip can be issued for something happening outside the House.
Sibal clarified that it was not a whip but a notice issued by the chief whip asking them to attend the CLP meeting.
“Whether the MLAs staying away from party meeting will amount to them voluntarily giving up membership, I have to decide,” Sibal said.
MLAs are being given a chance to voice their grievances, Sibal said when the court questioned him on his views on intra-party democracy.
As a Speaker, Sibal said, Joshi has to examine the conduct of the members. “That they did not attend two meetings is just one aspect of it,” he said. Neither the high court nor the Supreme Court can decide that, he added.
Sibal contended there have been numerous apex court decisions, which hold that actions outside party, including not even attending meeting, have resulted in disqualification.
At this, the bench said the matter will require a detailed hearing as the issue of jurisdiction has to be decided.
“These are important questions relating to democracy. How will the democracy function? These are very serious issues. We want to hear it,” said Justice Mishra.
‘Why can’t you wait for one more day?’
The court asked Sibal why the Speaker could not wait another day for the response of the rebel MLAs. It is the matter of just one day, the bench noted.
The bench also did not agree to Sibal seeking a stay of the high court order. It even declined his request to stay further proceedings of the high court or to transfer the matter to the Supreme Court.
While Sibal said the court cannot direct the Speaker, Justice Mishra pointed out the high court order mentions the word “request”.
Sibal then asked the court to suspend the high court order. “At least stay the HC proceeding. You want to examine the question of jurisdiction (while) the high court is deciding on whether the Speaker can take a call.”
But the bench refused to yield and asked Mukul Rohatgi and senior advocate Harish Salve, who are representing Sachin Pilot, to respond on the next date.