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Putting a dampener on AIADMK's plans, Madras HC steps in to halt floor test

S Murari | Updated on: 14 September 2017, 22:32 IST

The Madras High Court on Thursday restrained the Tamil Nadu Governor from calling on the Assembly and the Speaker to hold any floor test till 20 September.

This order was issued after Opposition DMK raised fears that the Edappadi K Palaniswami government planned to disqualify rebel MLAs loyal to TTV Dinakaran and thereby win the vote.

Passing an interim order on a petition filed by Leader of the Opposition MK Stalin, Justice M Duraiswamy said no such test should be held until further orders. The court has also covered the Governor in the restraint order as the Assembly has been prorogued since the last session and only he can call it to meet again on the recommendation of the Chief Minister.

The judge passed this order after Advocate-General Vijaya Narayanan, while seeking more time to respond to Stalin’s plea for a direction to the Governor to convene the Assembly, refused to give any undertaking that status quo would be maintained till the next hearing.

Stalin’s counsel Kapil Sibal, opposing the AG’s plea for more time, told the court that government might use this time to ”convert minority to majority” by disqualifying the 19 dissident ruling party MLAs who had withdrawn support.

In today’s hearing before the High Court, the Speaker’s counsel contended that he was not subject to any court jurisdiction on conduct of Assembly business. However, several courts have held the Speaker, while deciding on disqualifying any member, will be functioning as a quasi-judicial authority and his action will be subject to court scrutiny.

The next move

Immediately after the High Court passed this interim order, Chief Minister Palaniswami and Deputy O Panneerselvam held consultations with Vijaya Narayaan even as Speaker S Dhanapal started his enquiry against the rebels.

Nineteen pro-Dinakaran MLAs met the Governor on 23 August, a day after the two factions merged, and informed him they were withdrawing support to the EPS government.

On a complaint from AIADMK whip Rajendran that these rebels had defied the whip issued last February when the Palaniswami government won the trust by withdrawing support now, the Speaker served notice on them.

During this period, one of the rebels, Cumbhum legislator T K T Jakkayan, returned to the side of the government. He met the Speaker and explained his stand and may escape disqualification.

Many of the other 18 have been taken away to Kudugu hills in Karnataka. However, local MLA Vettrivel met the Speaker along with his lawyer and sought time and also certain documents from the government side. The lawyer said the other MLAs could respond through counsel.

Explaining their position, Thanga Selvan said that on 5 February, they voted for the EPS Government whereas 10 MLAs belonging to the O Panneerselvam group voted against. They were part of the government after the merger and Panneerselvam is Deputy Chief Minister.

Drawing a parallel

Leader of the rebel camp Dinakaran has cited the Karnataka parallel of 2010 where nine BJP dissident MLAs met the Governor and gave similar letters withdrawing support to Chief Minister BS Yeddiyurappa. Even as the Governor asked the CM to take immediately the floor test, the Speaker disqualified the dissidents ahead of the vote and his order was eventually quashed by the Supreme Court.

The EPS Government, which has been reduced to 114 in a house of 233, plans disqualify the rebels first and win the vote as courts may take years to come to their rescue.

First published: 14 September 2017, 22:32 IST