Karnataka crisis: The Speaker calls the shots in the Assembly?
The Speaker is the presiding officer of the House, and has full freedom to run it within the bounds of his constitutional powers.
The Karnataka political crisis has also spawned a crucial constitutional question: to what extent can the Supreme Court intervene in the Speaker’s decision to run the legislature as the presiding officer of the Lower House.
The Supreme Court did acknowledge the point when it maintained the status quo into the issue of resignations submitted by 10 rebel Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs in Karnataka. The hearing, which took place of Friday, will now continue on Tuesday.
The bench acknowledged that the crucial question of the extent of the powers of the court to issue directions to the Speaker had also cropped up.
A day earlier, the Supreme Court had asked Karnataka Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar to meet the rebel legislators who had petitioned the court and take a call on their resignations on Thursday itself. However, the Speaker said that it was his constitutional duty to make sure that the resignations were voluntary and genuine and the decision could not be rushed. He insisted that he was obligated to the constitution and the people of the state alone.
While Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for the rebel MLAs, urged the court to issue a contempt notice to the Karnataka Assembly Speaker for violating its order to take a decision on the resignations immediately, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for the Speaker, said that the latter had a constitutional obligation under Article 190 (3) (b) to ensure that the resignations were genuine and voluntary. He added that the Speaker was well within his right to reject resignations that did not stand up to this test.
The article in question says: “If a member of a House of the Legislature of a State resigns his seat by writing under his hand addressed to the Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be, and his resignation is accepted by the Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be, his seat shall thereupon becomes vacant: Provided that in the case of any resignation referred to in sub clause (b), if from information received or otherwise and after making such inquiry as he thinks fit, the Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be, is satisfied that such resignation is not voluntary or genuine, he shall not accept such resignation.”
The Speaker is the presiding officer of the House, and has full freedom to run it within the bounds of his constitutional powers. At the same time, while a member of the ruling party, the Speaker is supposed to be neutral and above the fray. The rebel MLAs had moved court accusing the Speaker of failing to perform his constitutional duty. The Speaker, however, has told the court that he is performing his constitutional duty and cannot do so with a short deadline.
The question is an open one and we will hear more about it in the coming week.
Meanwhile, the court’s maintaining of the status quo has offered the beleaguered HD Kumaraswamy government some breathing space.