The Madras High Court on Thursday delivered a split verdict in the case concerning the disqualification of 18 AIADMK MLAs last September. The verdict which was pronounced by the first bench of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar comes almost five months after it was reserved in January.
While the Chief Justice has found no reason to 'interfere' in the Speaker's decision, Justice M Sundar has found the disqualification to be against principles of natural justice.
In September last year, the 18 MLAs had met then Governor Vidyasagar Rao and expressed their lack of confidence in Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. Following this, based on the complaint made by the AIADMK party whip S Rajendran, the Speaker P Dhanapal passed the disqualification order.
Chief Justice Banerjee held that there is no scope for judicial interference in the decision of the Speaker P Dhanapal to disqualify the 18 MLAs. She dismissed all the petitions, stating:
“In my opinion, the view taken by the Speaker is a possible, if not plausible view, and I am unable to hold that the said decision is any way unreasonable, irrational or perverse. It is well settled that when two views are possible, the High Court does not in exercise of its power of judicial review conferred under Article 226 of the Constitution of India interfere with the decision just because it prefers the other view. No interference is, therefore, warranted with the impugned order passed by the Speaker.
The writ petitions are dismissed. No costs. Consequently, connected miscellaneous petitions are closed.”
Justice Sundar, meanwhile, was of the opinion that the Speaker’s decision was liable to be set aside. He wanted all petitions preferred by the 18 MLAs to be allowed. His findings were as follows in the order -
“15(a) Sum totality of discussion supra leads this Court to inevitably conclude that the impugned order of the Speaker disqualifying 18 writ petitioners herein deserves to be set aside.
15(b) Owing to all that have been set out supra, the order of Speaker dated 18.09.2017 which is the impugned order, is set aside with regard to the 18 writ petitioners herein as being hit by all four grounds of judicial review qua Speaker’s order as laid down by the Supreme Court in Kihoto case [Kihoto Hollohan v Zachillhu], i.e., hit by perversity, non compliance with the principles of natural justice, mala fides (qua S.T.K.Jakkaiyan issue) and violation of constitutional mandate."
And finally, acknowledging the difference in opinion within the bench they ordered that the writ petitions regarding the disqualification of the 18 MLAs be referred to a third judge.
"The difference of opinion being between the Chief Justice and Justice Sundar, the Chief Justice is of the view that it would not be appropriate for the Chief Justice to nominate the third Judge. The writ petitions be referred to the next Senior-most Judge available for nomination of a third Judge. Mr.Raman appearing on behalf of some of the writ petitioners submits that the interim order earlier passed by this Court should continue till the decision by the third Judge. The prayer is allowed," the bench ruled.
Now, a third judge will have to be appointed to look into the case and decide the fate of the 18 MLAs in question. The rebel legislators while confident of a favourable verdict are also ready to approach the Supreme Court if the case does not play out as they expect it to.