In a huge setback for the Ashok Gehlot government, the Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the Rajasthan Speaker’s petition to intervene in the High Court’s order to defer anti-defection proceedings against former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot and 18 rebel Congress MLAs till July 24, saying that “the voice of dissent in a democracy cannot be suppressed”.
As the top began hearing an appeal filed by Rajasthan Assembly Speaker CP Joshi challenging the High Court order to defer anti-defection proceedings against the rebel Congress MLAs, it questioned why the Speaker cannot wait till Friday.
Joshi on Thursday told the Supreme Court that the Rajasthan High Court cannot restrain him from initiating disqualification proceedings against Sachin Pilot and the dissident legislators till July 24.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Joshi, argued that the high court “cannot direct” the Speaker to extend the time to file replies to the anti-defection notices and the court was wrong as “it is not in it’s jurisdiction”.
“This is against settled law on this point,” Sibal contended.
Kapil Sibal put out that prior to a decision, there cannot be any interference (by the court) unless there is a suspension or disqualification.
“There can’t be a protective order at this stage. When the Rajasthan High Court extended time to reply on notices and said no directions will be passed, that was a protective order,” he argued.
On this, the Supreme Court questioned the grounds on which disqualification was sought.
To this, the Speaker’s counsel replied: “MLAs didn’t attend party meet; they were indulging in anti-party activities. They were in a Haryana hotel, incommunicado and sought floor test against their own party”.
The top court responded by asking if a person elected by people could not express his dissent.
Sibal replied that they would need to explain. “It is the Speaker which will decide, not any court,” he said.
However, Justice AK Mishra, without referring to the Rajasthan crisis said, “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”.
The Supreme Court further observed that Speaker CP Joshi was only requested by the Rajasthan High Court to wait till July 24.
To this, the Speaker’s counsel sought suspension of the word “direction” from the order saying that the court cannot do that.
The Supreme Court then dismissed the argument saying, “So the problem is only with the word? Order everywhere says ‘request'”.
The top court concluded its hearing saying that the Rajasthan High Court can pass orders on rebel MLAs plea against disqualification notice from the Speaker.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra and comprising Justices BR Gavai and Krishna Murari had taken up the matter through video conferencing.
The Speaker’s plea through advocate Sunil Fernandes on Wednesday said, “It is respectfully submitted that the impugned order passed by the High Court is in effect a stay on the powers of the Speaker under the Tenth Schedule to adjudicate on a disqualification petition”.
The plea urged the apex court to pass an interim ex-parte order staying the July 21 order of the Rajasthan High Court.
Speaker CP Joshi had filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court to avert what he called a “constitutional crisis” in the state.
Joshi insisted that the High Court has breached the bar imposed by the apex court in Kihoto Hollohan case against judicial intervention in matters pending before the Speaker.
Earlier on Wednesday, announcing his decision to move the Supreme Court against the high court order at a press conference, the Rajasthan Assembly Speaker warned that the rebels were “heading for a constitutional crisis”.
“Speaker’s responsibilities are well defined by the Supreme Court and the Constitution. As the Speaker, I got an application and to seek information on it, I issued show-cause notice. If show-cause notice will not be issued by the authority, then what is the work of authority?” he questioned.
“It can be judicially reviewed only later, after the Speaker’s decision,” he said, calling the rebels’ petition a “dangerous precedent” and a possible “breakdown of constitutional rules.”
In a respite for the Sachin Pilot camp for the second time, the Rajasthan High Court on Tuesday asked the Assembly Speaker not to take any action against them till Friday when it will deliver its order on their petition.
The high court hearing began last Friday but was then adjourned till Monday and the Speaker was asked not to take any action against the petitioners till Tuesday.
After Sachin Pilot and the rebel MLAs gave the second CLP meeting a miss on July 14, the Congress announced the removal of Pilot as the Deputy Chief Minister as well as the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief.
The Congress government is witnessing a major crisis after Sachin Pilot announced that the Gehlot government was in minority and claimed the support of 30 MLAs.
Meanwhile, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Wednesday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi drawing his attention towards the alleged horse-trading going on in the state to topple his government.
“How can the ruling party at the Centre play the main role in the conspiracy to topple the state government leaving aside its priority to tackle corona management?” he questioned.
Addressing the PM as ‘Priya Shri Narendra Modi ji’ in his letter, Gehlot alleged that efforts are being made to topple the elected government in Rajasthan in which Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and a few leaders of the BJP as well as the Congress are playing an active role.
Gehlot ended his letter saying, “Constitutional values and democratic principles shall win and we shall complete our tenure giving good governance.”