‘Voice of dissent cannot be shut down’: SC On Sachin Pilot’s plea

sachin-pilot-rep2-1594717646NEW DELHI : Congress rebel Pilot has had an upper hand in the Top Court as the apex court refused to stop the Rajasthan High Court from announcing its decision tomorrow on a petition by Sachin Pilot and 18 other rebel MLAs challenging disqualification notices served to them for defying the Congress party.
“Voice of dissent in a democracy cannot be shut down”, the Supreme Court said on Thursday as it questioned Rajasthan Assembly Speaker CP Joshi on the reasons for initiating disqualification proceedings against 19 dissident Congress MLAs, including sacked deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot.

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said: “This is not a simple matter and these MLAs are elected representatives”. “Voice of dissent in democracy cannot be shut down”, the bench observed. “We are trying to find out whether this process (disqualification) was permissible or not.”

The top court’s observation came when senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Joshi, listed the reasons for starting disqualification proceedings and said that these MLAs did not attend party meetings and conspired to destabilise their own government.
Responding to a query of the bench, Sibal said, “These MLAs had gone to Haryana, stayed at a hotel and gave TV bites that they want floor test.”
He said the issue as to whether the disqualification process is permissible or not cannot be taken note of by the court at this stage. “Our grievance is purely constitutional and there cannot be any order till decision is taken by the speaker.”
Sibal said that at the most the Speaker can be asked to decide disqualification within a time frame but the process can’t be interfered with and no writ can lie to challenge proceedings before Speaker prior to the decision on disqualification or suspension of MLAs.
During the hearing, the bench asked Sibal whether a disqualification notice can be issued to MLAs for not attending the meetings and can it be taken as stand against the party.

The bench’s observation came when Sibal said that there was a notice issued by the Chief Whip of the party to all MLAs to attend the meetings. At the outset, Joshi told the top court that the state high court has no jurisdiction to restrain him from conducting disqualification proceedings till July 24 against 19 dissident Congress MLAs.
Sibal referred to a famous top court verdict rendered in the 1992 Kihoto Hollohan case, in which it was held that courts can’t intervene in disqualification proceedings undertaken by the Speaker under Tenth Schedule to the Constitution.

He said courts could only intervene when the Speaker takes a decision to suspend or disqualify a member of the House. Sibal’s response came when the bench asked him whether courts could not intervene at all if the Speaker suspended or disqualified a lawmaker.
The Rajasthan High Court’s ruling will, however, be subject to the final order of the Supreme Court, which will take up the case on Monday. “It is the matter of just one day. Why can’t you wait,” the top court asked the Speaker during arguments on blocking tomorrow’s verdict. The judges also questioned why the Speaker, a neutral person, should approach the court at all.
“Assume a leader has lost the faith of persons. While remaining in party they cannot be disqualified. Then this will become a tool and no one can raise their voice. The voice of dissent in a democracy cannot be suppressed like this,” said Justice AK Mishra, one of the three judges hearing the case, without referring to Rajasthan.
Justice Mishra was responding to the arguments of Kapil Sibal defending the Speaker’s right to serve disqualification notices and ask the rebels why they skipped party meetings. “The High Court cannot give any protective order at this stage to the other camp. No court can intervene when the Speaker is deciding the case,” Mr Sibal said.
Speaker CP Joshi had served notices to 19 rebel MLAs, including Sachin Pilot, after they skipped two meetings of Congress MLAs called by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot last week.
The rebels argued in court that they do not intend to quit the party; they only want a change in the leadership. But Mr Sibal said their act of not joining the meetings amounted to giving up their membership.
The Speaker’s sudden move to seek the Supreme Court’s intervention reflects the Congress’s worry that a legal victory for the rebels may endanger its government in Rajasthan.

Ashok Gehlot’s government has a narrow lead in the 200-member assembly – just one MLA over the majority mark of 101. If the Rajasthan High Court decides the Speaker can continue the process of disqualifying team Pilot’s 19 MLAs, Mr Gehlot can win more easily as the majority mark will come down.
If the rebel MLAs win their case and get protection from disqualification, however, they can vote against the Congress government and make it tough for Mr Gehlot to retain power in Rajasthan.
(With Agency Inputs ).

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