Bengaluru: Clearing the decks for the 17 disqualified Karnataka Congress and JD(S) legislators whose rebellion earlier in July this year brought down the H.D. Kumaraswamy led coalition government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that they can contest the crucial December 5 Assembly byelections.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice N.V. Ramana however upheld the verdict given by former Assembly Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar disqualifying them but ruled against the period of disqualification saying the Speaker has no power to fix such a tenure.
The revolt by the disqualified MLAs had ensured the exit of the JD(S)-Congress coalition government which lost its majority and paved the way for the installation of a BJP government led by B.S. Yediyurappa. Now that the disqualified MLAs have got the nod from the top court to contest, the ruling BJP is expected to make them candidates in 15 of the 17 assembly seats going to bypolls on December 5.
The BJP is yet to secure a clear majority in the 224 member Karnataka assembly and is hoping to win a majority of the 15 bypoll seats and secure its position. The opposition Congress and JD(S) which were earlier coalition partners, are expected to fight the bypolls separately but the possibility of a political re-alignment post the bypolls depending on the results cannot be ruled out, said sources.
Calling for the strengthening of the anti-defection law so that "undemocratic practices are discouraged and checked", Justice Ramana said that there was a "growing trend" of the Speaker acting against the constitutional duty of being neutral." The court also lamented that "horse trading and corrupt practices" associated with defection and change of loyalties for the "lure of office or wrong reasons have not abated."
As a principle, the court said that it was the prerogative of the member to resign and he could not be compelled to continue in the legislature. "Once it is demonstrated that a member is willing to resign of his free will, the Speaker has no option but to accept the resignation," the bench said.
However, the verdict said that "a member disqualified under the Tenth Schedule, cannot hold any remunerative political post from the date of disqualification till he is re-elected to the legislature." The court also rejecting the plea by the Congress and JD(S) that the entire matter be referred to a larger five-judge Constitution bench.
The top court also said a party challenging a disqualification order is required to first approach the High Court as it would be an appropriate, effective and expeditious remedy to deal with such issues.