Law has to evolve to address poaching of Legislators: SC

Office of Profit: SC Directs Election Commission to Disqualify 12 Manipur MLAs

The Supreme Court on Monday said the ‘sordid tale of political life‘ exemplified by the toppling of state governments by switching of loyalty by ruling party MLAs and the spectacle of ‘flocked rebel MLAs being flown to safe destinations’ are denting the ‘democratic polity’ while suggesting legislative measures to remedy these evils.

Prior Facts:

An imbroglio in the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly over the purported resignations of twenty-two Members and several communications by the Governor to the Chief Minister to hold an immediate floor test have given rise to these writ petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution.

The first writ petition has been instituted by ten Members of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly seeking a writ directing the Speaker, Chief Minister and Principal Secretary of the Legislative Assembly to hold a floor test under the directions issued by the Governor.

The second writ petition has been instituted by the Madhya Pradesh Congress Legislature Party through its Chief Whip seeking diverse reliefs including:

1. A direction to the Union of India and the State of Karnataka to grant access to the office bearers of the MP Congress Party to communicate with respondents five to nineteen (the Members of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly who have tendered their resignation);

2. A declaration that respondents five to nineteen are in the illegal confinement of the Union of India, the State of Karnataka and the Bharatiya Janata Party

3. A direction permitting and enabling respondents five to nineteen to participate in the ongoing Budget Session of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly;

4. A direction that a trust vote should be held only in the presence of all the elected Members of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly;

5. A declaration that the communications of the Governor of Madhya Pradesh to the Chief Minister under Articles 174 and 175 of the Constitution of India are unconstitutional

6. A direction that if the twenty-two Members belonging to the Indian National Congress have resigned, the trust vote is postponed until by-elections are held for the vacant seats.

Key Features:

  • The Supreme Court said that “The spectacle of political parties spiriting away their elected members to hide-outs does little credit to India’s democratic politics”.
  • The court referred to how terms like ‘political bargaining’ and ‘horse-trading‘ have become oft-repeated usages in legal precedents.
  • Justice Chandrachud highlighted that ‘poaching’ was an expression bandied about by both the Congress and the BJP in court during the Madhya Pradesh case hearing.
  • A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud was referring to the Madhya Pradesh political controversy during which legislators were whisked away to safe destinations by the BJP and the Congress to protect their numbers in the House.

Judgement:

The judgement while making the remark observed that, “The spectacle of rival political parties whisking away their political flock to safe destinations does little credit to the state of our democratic politics. It is an unfortunate reflection on the confidence which political parties held in their constituents and a reflection of what happens in the real world of politics”.

Justice Chandrachud wrote that “the spiriting away of legislators is a ‘burgeoning evil’ which strikes at the very root of the concept of the political party as a unit. Once loyal party members tend to stray in favour of personal allurements, the law of defection needs to be armed against this evil”.

The Judgment added that “An underlying assumption of the anti-defection scheme outlined in the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution is that the political party is the defined political unit which the Constitution recognises. Where we increasingly see a breakdown in the composition and allegiances of the political party due to private allurements offered to Members as opposed to public policy considerations, the law may have to evolve to address these burgeoning evil”.

The Supreme Court has issued the following directions in the matter above stated as:

1. The session of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly which has been deferred to 26 March 2020 shall be reconvened on 20 March 2020;

2. The meeting to be convened in pursuance of (i) above shall be confined to a single agenda, namely, whether the government of the incumbent Chief Minister continues to enjoy the confidence of the House;

3. Voting on agenda (ii) above shall take place by show of hands (the Governor having clarified by his letter dated 15 March 2020 that there is no provision for recording the division by the press of the button);

4. The proceedings before the Legislative Assembly shall be video graphed and, if a provision exists for the live telecast of the proceedings, this shall also be ensured;

5. All authorities, including the Legislative Secretary, shall ensure that there is no breach of law and order in the course of the proceedings and that the floor test is conducted peacefully;

6. The floor test in pursuance of the above directions shall be concluded by 5.00 pm on 20 March 2020; and

7. The Director-General of Police, Karnataka as well as the Director-General of Police, Madhya Pradesh shall ensure that there shall be no restraint or hindrance whatsoever on any of the sixteen MLAs taking recourse to their rights and liberties as citizens. If they or any of them opt to attend the session of the Legislative Assembly, arrangements for their security shall be provided by all the concerned authorities.

Edited by J. Madonna Jephi

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

Reference:

Case of Shivraj Singh Chouhan & Ors. vs. Speaker Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly & Ors., Writ Petition (C) No. 439 of 2020 with Writ Petition (C) No. 449 of 2020, decided by the Supreme Court of India on April 13, 2020.

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Vaibhav Goyal is a 3rd year BA.LLB (H) student of UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. He also basically belongs to the “City Beautiful-Chandigarh”. He had interned and have work experience at various Central and State Government bodies of India including the National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi; the Central Information Commission, New Delhi; U.T. Legal Services Authority, Chandigarh, etc. His research projects includes the study on the Right to Emergency Services (PSHRC), Resettlement of Migrant People (NHRC), Implications of RTI in Financial Institutions (CIC), etc. His publications involve articles in different fields of law like administrative, jurisprudence, etc. on online journals including the Juscholars Blog, Burnished Law Journal, etc. His research paper on Prison Reform was published in the Panjab University Journal and his paper was selected in category of best abstract on the topic of Naxalism: A State of Lawlessness and Arbitrariness. He had scored well in various competitions of law consisting of Quiz, Essay Writing, Lecture, Declamation, etc. He had also participated in various conferences including the World Law Forum Conference on Strategic Lawsuits on Public Participation held in New Delhi on Oct 20, 2018 and the National Law Conclave 2020 held at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi on Jan 11, 2020.