Chennai: The Madras High court on Tuesday allowed plea of 18 disqualified MLAs, supporting rebel leader TTV Dhinakaran, for urgent hearing on Wednesday.
Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P. Dhanapal on Monday had disqualified the MLAs for withdrawing their support to Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy and going against the “line of the ruling AIADMK”.
The 18 disqualified MLAs had then filed a plea challenging their disqualification.
The Speaker’s decision brings down the strength of the 234-member Assembly to 214 and the magic number for a majority down to 108 from 118, which might enable the Edappadi K. Palanisamy government to prove its strength on the floor of the House.
As per the last count on September 5, the chief minister’s camp had the support of 114 MLAs as 111 of them turned up at a meeting and three others registered their presence over the phone.
The Tamil Nadu Assembly has 19 seats vacant now, including RK Nagar which is vacant since late chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016.
A floor test cannot take place till Wednesday as per a directive of the Madras high court.
Almost a month after the rebel group MLAs had submitted a letter to acting governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao declaring withdrawal of their support to the CM, Speaker Dhanapal issued a statement in which he said the legislators were disqualified under Members of Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly (Disqualifica-tion on Ground of Defection) Rules 1986.
The MLAs who were disqualified include P. Vetrivel and Thanga Tamilselvan, the most vocal supporters of Dhinakaran, whose appointment as deputy general secretary and re-induction into the party was struck down by the general council last week.
A majority of the disqualified legislators are staying at a private resort in Karnataka’s Kodagu district.
The move was expected since the Speaker had sent them notices seeking their reply on why they should not be disqualified for going against the party line on August 24. Dhanapal acted on a petition by chief whip S Rajendran, who sought their disqualification for expressing “no confidence” against the CM.
The move may clear some uncertainty for now, but the rival Dhinakaran camp has vowed to “take the fight right up to the Supreme Court”.
Legal experts were divided, with a majority saying any decision by the Speaker is subject to judicial review. They also referred to the Supreme Court cancelling the disqualification of 16 MLAs by the then Karnataka Speaker in October 2010. They also said the “sky-high” powers of the Speaker are limited to his/her actions on the floor of the House, and inside the Assembly.
Immediately after the move was made public, Dhinakaran accused the Speaker and the government of trying to prove its majority through “unfair means.”
He said: “It is always justice that prevails at the end. We will definitely seek legal course and ensure our legislators participate in the voting as and when it happens. They will vote against this government.”
However, fisheries minister and EPS-OPS loyalist D Jayakumar said the Speaker acted “democratically” and had gone by the rulebook.
“I am not supposed to comment on the Speaker’s decision or action. His decision is final and moreover this matter is in court. If I talk about it, it will be sub judice,” he told reporters in New Delhi.
The Opposition also hit out against the Speaker’s decision, calling it most unfortunate. “The disqualification has been done deliberately to reduce the strength of the House. We will challenge the decision at two places -- in the courts and in the people’s court,” Opposition leader MK Stalin said.