In the course of arguments, Mr Sibal said the issue involved needed to be referred to the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.
New Delhi: The Election Commission on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it would defer the byelections to 17 Assembly seats in Karnataka that fell vacant after the disqualification of MLAs belonging to the JD(S) and the Congress after they defied the party whip and stayed away from voting on the confidence motion by former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy.
The EC said this as a bench comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, Sanjeev Khanna and Krishna Murari decided to hold a final hearing on October 22-23, and decide on the petitions by 17 MLAs challenging their disqualification by then Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar.
Appearing for the EC, senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi told the court the poll panel can use Section 153 of the Representation of the People Act 1951 and defer the byelections, which were announced on September 21, and the nominations for which were to begin from September 29. Section 153 RP Act states: “It shall be competent for the Election Commission for reasons which it considers sufficient, to extend the time for completion of any election by making necessary amendments in the notification issued by it under Section 30 or sub-section (1) of Section 39.”
Former Karnataka Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar had rejected the MLAs’ resignations, and acting on a complaint by the Congress disqualified them. Of the 17 MLAs who were disqualified, 14 belonged to the Congress and three to the JD(S).
Addressing the court, Mr Dwivedi, appearing for the EC, said even if court set aside the disqualification of the former legislators, their membership of the state Assembly would go due to their resignations, thus suggesting that the bypolls were inevitable either way.
He said it was not just the question of the right of the disqualified MLAs to contest the election but also the right of the electorate of 17 constituencies to have representation in the Assembly.
“If there is a right of an individual to contest, there is a right of a constituency to be represented”, Mr Dwivedi said, opposing the suggestion to put the election on hold. Mr Dwivedi said this before the court said it would hold a final hearing on the matter.
Appearing for the Congress, on whose complaint the legislators were unseated, senior counsel Kapil Sibal said that the Speaker, while deciding whether the resignations were voluntary and genuine, could not be oblivious of the fact that these disqualified MLAs were hobnobbing with the BJP and were staying at a hotel in Mumbai under high security.
In a dig at the argument that the rebel MLAs were not comfortable with the working of the coalition government headed by then CM H.D. Kumaraswamy, Mr Sibal said it was not that they were uncomfortable with the coalition but were “more comfortable” with the BJP.
Mr Sibal said in the first place they did not submit their resignations to the Speaker but to the governor, and then left for Mumbai in a BJP MLA’s private aircraft from the HAL airport.
In the course of arguments, Mr Sibal said the issue involved needed to be referred to the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. A further hearing on the petitions by the disqualified legislators seeking the quashing of the then Speaker’s order would now take place on October 22, and continue for two days.