In a respite to the beleaguered Edappadi Government in Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court today rejected a plea to disqualify Deputy Minister O Pannerselvam and 10 other MLAs of his faction who voted against the Government in February 2017.
Dismissing a batch of petitions filed by DMK whip K Chakrapani and four pro-Dinakaran legislators, seeking a direction to the Speaker to disqualify Pannerselvam and others as they had defied the whip and voted against the government when it sought the confidence vote, the court said any such direction would amount to infringing on the powers of the Speaker.Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose held that issuing such a direction to the Speaker would amount to" judicial overreach" and encroaching upon the powers of the legislature. They also held that the court could not issue a direction to the Speaker to act upon representations made by the petitioners when he, in his discretion, had chosen not to act.
The bench also noted that the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court was seized of the issue as to whether courts could intervene in case of studied inaction by a Speaker.The bench said that while disqualification of an MLA was subject to judicial review, the court cannot come into the picture unless and until the Speaker acts on it.The court, however, granted leave to senior counsel R. Shanmugasundaram, representing the DMK whip, to appeal to the Supreme Court as the case involved interpretation of constitutional provisions.
Though Pannerselvam and 10 others voted against the Edappadi Government on Feb 18 in 2017, the Speaker did not take any action against them. They subsequently merged their faction with the rebel Edappadi group in September last year and the reunited AIADMK got the frozen Two Leaves symbol, much to the chagrin of rebel leader T T V Dinakaran who installed Edappadi in power along with 123 MLAs in the hope that he would keep the seat warm for him.
on the advice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Edappadi expelled jailed general secretary V K Sasikala and her nephew Dinakaran and abolished the posts and deputy general secretary at the general council in September last year. This paved the way for the return of Pannerselvam to the parent party. Pannerselvam was made Deputy Chief Minister and joint coordinator along with Palanasamy of the AIADMK.
When 18 of Dinakaran supporters revolted against this by submitting a petition to the Governor, seeking removal of the Chief Minister, Speaker Dhanapalan disqualified them, contending that they had voluntarily relinquished the party by petitioning against the Government. Four of pro-Dinakaran MLAs, including Vettrivel, challenged it in the high court, citing the differing stands taken by the Speaker on the identical issue to show that he acted mala fide.
With the High Court refusing to interfere, 11 MLAs have saved their seat. They include not only Pannerselvam but also senior Minister K Pandiarajan and prominent MLA and former DG of Police R Nataraj.Another bench, comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Sunder in January this year reserved orders on a batch of petitions challenging the disqualification of 18 pro-Dinakaran MLAs by Speaker Dhanapalan on Sept 18 last year after they petitioned the Governor for a change of the Chief Minister.
The verdict in this case will decide the fate of the Edappadi Government as it now has only 111 MLAs in a House with an effective strength of 215 out of the total strength of 234, with the seat of late Chief Minister J Jayalalitha remaining vacant following the cancellation of the by-election to her RK Nagar constituency April last year.