New Delhi/July, 23: The Supreme Court on Thursday said the “voice of dissent in a democracy cannot be shut down”, 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.
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. 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.”
Responding to a query of the bench, Sibal said, “These MLAs had gone to Haryana, stayed at a hotel and gave TV bytes 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 the decision is taken by the Speaker.”
Sibal said that at the most the Speaker can be asked to decide disqualification within a timeframe but the process can’t be interfered with. 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 had no jurisdiction to restrain him from conducting disqualification proceedings till July 24 against the 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 intervene only 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. Joshi has challenged the Rajasthan High Court’s July 21 order, which said the verdict on the petition filed by the 19 MLAs, challenging the disqualification notices, will be pronounced on July 24 and asked him to defer the disqualification proceedings till then.