Supreme Court deals a heavy blow to Kerala government over ruckus in Assembly

V Sivankutty standing atop a table during the ruckus in the Legislative Assembly in 2015 during KM Mani's Budget presentation
V Sivankutty standing atop a table during the ruckus in the Legislative Assembly in 2015 during KM Mani's Budget presentation. File photo: Manorama

New Delhi: In a huge blow to the state government, the Supreme Court on Monday dismissed its appeal over the ruckus inside the Legislative Assembly in 2015.

The apex court came down heavily on the State, ruling that "such a ruckus cannot be held to be a Parliamentary proceeding".

The verdict of the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud is a heavy blow to the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government that had sought for withdrawal of criminal prosecution against six CPI(M) members in ruckus case.

The order states: “I have traced the history of privileges under the Indian Constitution. Then I’ve said that tracing this history, the standout that exists is the absence of immunity and the same is to allow them to perform their functions without hindrance.

“These privileges bear a functional relationship to the discharge of functions of the legislators, but it is not a mark of difference that places the legislators on a pedestal.”

The top court pronounced that the members of the legislative assembly are not privileged to stand on “an unequal footing”.

V Sivankutty and other LDF legislators entering the Speaker's podium during the ruckus in the Legislative Assembly in 2015 during KM Mani's Budget presentation. File photo: Manorama

“Privileges and immunity are not a mark of status which makes them stand on an unequal footing.

Article 19(1)(a) as argued recognises that individual freedom of speech and expression, and Article 101 recognizes such freedom within the Parliament and state legislature. This is so that they can function duties and functions which is also about trust,” the court ruled.

“Privileges and immunity are not a gateway to claim exemption from criminal law and that would be a betrayal to the citizens. The withdrawal application which was filed by the incorrect reading of Article 194.

“The argument which was posed on what happened in the Assembly was a form of protest is an incorrect reading of the PV Narsimha Rao judgment.

“Act of members crossed the Constitutional lines and thus are not covered under the immunity and privileges. The Magistrate seems to be impressed by privileges and immunity available and this is a betrayal of the Constitution.

“We have also held that the Public Prosecutor is duty bound to act independently. When an application under Section 325 of CrPC is filed by PP, it should be seen that it is not extraneous to the vindication of the law. In the instant case, it is so.

“Committing destruction of property cannot be equated to freedom of speech in the House. Allowing the withdrawal Application under these circumstances would amount to interference with normal course of justice for illegitimate reasons.

“We have to impress that the trust of the public is imposed upon the members of State Legislature. Any withdrawal of cases will allow an exemption of members from criminal law,” the court ruled.

Earlier, the appeals had included one filed by the Kerala government against the High Court order dismissing its plea seeking withdrawal of a criminal case lodged against the then legislators who ran riot in the House ahead of the Budget presentation by the then Finance Minister K M Mani.

The state assembly had witnessed unprecedented scenes on March 13, 2015 as LDF members, then in opposition, tried to preven Mani, who was facing allegations in the bar bribery scam, from presenting the state budget.

Besides flinging the Speaker's chair from the podium, electronic equipment like computers, keyboards and mikes on the desk of the presiding officer were also allegedly damaged by the LDF members.

A bench of justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah had on July 15 reserved its verdict on the pleas.

The counsel appearing for the state government had argued that the incident happened in 2015 when there were allegations of corruption against the state government and the finance minister was about to table the budget in the House.

The counsel had said the FIR lodged by the secretary of Legislative Assembly did not have any constitutional backing as the Speaker had not given any sanction and to give quietus to the matter, the present government has moved an application for withdrawal of the prosecution.

He had argued that act of the members of the House was covered under Legislative Privileges and the authority to take action against them vests with the Speaker of the House and not the Legislative Secretary.

The lawyer representing some of the accused had said a new government is in place now and if the public prosecutor feels that it was a political issue, then it can be a ground for withdrawal.

The top court had on July 5 said it has to take a strict view of the unruly behaviour of lawmakers in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies as such incidents are "increasing now-a-days" and this sort of conduct cannot be condoned.

The case was registered against a group of then LDF MLAs. One among them,V Sivankutty, is now a minister in the new Pinarayi Vijayan Cabinet. 

In its plea filed in the apex court against the March 12 order of the High Court, the Kerala government had claimed that the High Court had failed to appreciate that the alleged incident had occurred while the Assembly was in session and no crime could have been registered "without previous sanction" of the Speaker.

The state government had moved the High Court against an order of the trial court which had dismissed an application filed by the public prosecutor seeking permission to withdraw from prosecution against the accused in the case.

The case was registered for the alleged offences under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 447 (criminal trespass), and under the provision of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.

(With inputs from PTI)

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