The Supreme Court on Friday closed the case in connection with the disqualification of 11 AIADMK MLAs including O Panneerselvam, who had voted against Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami in the 2017 confidence vote. It further instructed the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly P Dhanapal to decide on the matter of the disqualification of MLAs including Deputy Chief Minister O Paneerselvam and Tamil Culture Minister Mafoi Pandiarajan. The Supreme Court, however, did not set a deadline for the Speaker Dhanapal to decide the same.
On Friday, the hearing lasted for merely 10 minutes according to reports and the Supreme Court stated that the Speaker will decide on the fate of the MLAs. This will come as a huge relief for the AIADMK, whose fate in the Assembly could have been affected by a disqualification order. The AIADMK presently has 124 MLAs in the 234-member strong Assembly.
The DMK had initially approached the Madras High Court for disqualification of the 11 MLAs but after their writ petitions were dismissed, they moved the Supreme Court in May 2018. On February 4, while hearing the case, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing on behalf of the DMK said that the disqualification plea was moved before the Speaker in March 2017. However, action was yet to be taken in the matter, they told a bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde.
"We think that the three years delay is unnecessary (on the part of Speaker)," said the bench on February 4. "Tell us whether you are going to take action. If yes, then when and how," it added.
The bench had also maintained that a recent judgement delivered in the disqualification case of Manipur's BJP minister was the law of the land. The Manipur case refers to a hearing on January 24, in which the court said Parliament should "rethink" whether the Speaker of a House should continue to have powers to disqualify lawmakers as such a functionary "belongs to a particular political party".
Sibal had argued, "If the disqualification plea is moved against an opposition MLA, the Speaker issues notice next day. And if such pleas are filed against the ruling party MLA, then the notice is never issued."
To this, the bench stated, "If Mr Sibal's submission is correct, then tell us as to when you are going to take action. We want to know this. These are no reasons for not acting. Irrespective of what you think about the judgement (Manipur case), the judgement holds the field. Apart from the judgement, we think that the Speaker should not sit over the disqualification issue for so long ," the bench had then told the Advocate General of Tamil Nadu.
The DMK had sought the disqualification of Panneerselvam and 10 others for having voted against the Palaniswami government. This was following former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s death when the AIADMK had split into two factions – one led by Sasikala and the other by Paneerselvam, who had rebelled against her leadership in 2017.
The DMK had alleged that by voting against the trust motion, these MLAs had violated the whip. The plea for their disqualification was made before the Speaker under Paragraph 2 (1)(b) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution and DMK maintained that they attracted disqualification under the anti-defection law.