Jaipur: The Rajasthan High Court on Friday ordered status quo on disqualification notice sent to 19 MLAs, including former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, under anti-defection law.
With this order, Speaker C P Joshi will be unable to take any action against the dissident legislators for the time being even if they fail to respond to the notices.
A division bench of Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice Prakash Gupta also accepted another plea of Mr Pilot to make the Union Government a party in the writ petition.
Mr Pilot told the court that since the petition deals with anti-defection law mentioned under Tenth Schedule of Constitution, the Centre should be added to the case.
However, on the larger question of constitutionality of the notices, the division bench deferred the verdict till the Supreme Court decides the validity of anti-defection law in the case.
The writ petition was filed by the rebels last week in the HC after they were served with notices of disqualification by the Speaker under anti-defection law.
Ironically, the notice came hours after they missed Congress Legislature Party meeting in Jaipur called to discuss the friction between the camps of Pilot and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
Noted Advocate Harish Salve and former Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the petitioner, contended that if the Speaker acts against anyone raising voice against the party’s chief, it tantamount to curbing the rights of the dissidents.
They said until a dissident supports or joins another party, it is not the violation of anti-defection law and intra-party differences can not be termed an act of defection.
Also, any party person has the right to defy the whip outside the Floor of House, Salve told the court.
Appearing for the respondents, senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the bench that the matter is beyond judicial review.
He also mentioned Article 212, under which the legality of the House cannot be questioned.
The noted lawyer further said the Supreme Court has upheld that the Freedom of Speech is not ‘absolute’ and has certain ‘restrictions’.
He reminded the court that only notices are served and they (rebels) are not disqualified.
On July 20, the HC reserved the verdict and asked the Speaker not to take any action till the court pronounces its decision.
Over this, the Speaker moved the Supreme Court alleging that the judiciary (High Court) was encroaching upon the powers of the legislative (Speaker).
But the Top Court orally observed that voice of dissent cannot be suppressed in a democracy and gave a green signal to High Court to go ahead with its proceedings.
However, the Apex Court stated that any decision of the HC would come under the judicial review of the Top Court and listed the matter for further hearing on Monday, July 27.
If the disqualification of 19 MLAs take place, the strength of the Assembly will be reduced to 181, with a new halfway-mark of 91 required to rule the House.
The disqualification will make it easier for Mr Gehlot to retain the majority.
In the present Assembly, Congress has 107 MLAs while Bharatiya Janata Party 72.
Rajasthan plunged into a political crisis after Mr Pilot and his loyalists revolted against Mr Gehlot and left the desert state. Later, Mr Pilot was stripped of the dual posts of Deputy Chief Minister and state Congress president.