The Congress’ aim to dislodge junior BJP MLA KG Bopaiah from the protem speaker seat did not fructify on Saturday morning, but the Supreme Court bench of Justices AK Sikri, SA Bobde and Ashok Bhushan decided that the entire process of floor test will be telecast live to provide transparency.
The court, in a special sitting, decided that the appointment of Bopaiah as protem speaker of the Karnataka assembly for the floor test could not be argued, because of a number of reasons. Justice Bobde said that there have been past instances of less senior MLAs being appointed as protem speakers. Therefore, this is not an isolated case.
The court also said that it could not ask the governor to change a speaker and it was also true that Bopaiah’s side of the argument would then also have to be heard and recorded for a neutral judgment.
The arguments were heard by Congress lawyers and a middle-path, so to say, was worked out.
The top court instead decided that Congress lawyers Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi would not press their prayers in regard to protem speaker, but the floor test will be live telecast over all channels. This will be recorded by the court’s registry.
The court said that this is the best way to address the grievances of opposition parties and that there will be transparency as well.
Justice Sikri has also clarified that there should not be any other agenda in the assembly other than this. During the hearings this morning Attorney General K K Venugopal and Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta were also present.
Also present in court No. 6 were senior advocates Ram Jethmalani, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Anoop George.
During the hearing Sibal said that the noble practice of the appointment of the senior-most member as protem speaker was ignored by the Karnataka governor.
He said that the individual appointed must be the senior-most member of the house which is a convention in Parliament as well. Sibal argued that the powers of governor are limited and restricted.
The senior-most MLA in the assembly is a Congress member. He talks about the practice and convention of parliamentary procedure. He cited examples from the past.
Interjecting, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi cited the appointment of Patil who was not the senior-most member of house.
Justice Bobde said that there have been examples when senior-most members were not appointed as protem speaker. Bala Sahab Bikhe Patil is one example. The court referred to the case of Sisram Ola also.
Singhvi countered Rohatgi’s submissions, stating that either it has to be the senior-most member of the house or the oldest member.
Justice Bobde said that Bala Saheb was given priority over Sisram Ola.
Then Sibal said that the pro-term speaker (Bopaiah) has a tainted history. He read from the judgement in which finding of Supreme Court is there against Bopaiah in the capacity of speaker.
Sibal referred to a case where the speaker (Bopaiah) disposed of the disqualification application, the reason being that he was not convinced as to why the show cause notice was served on the appellants. He said that the entire act of the speaker had vitiated rule 7 of the parliamentary rules and the principle of natural justice.
Sibal referred to paragraphs 65 and 77 of the Supreme Court judgment. He said that having heard the detailed submissions, the speaker had denied the disqualification application. The appellant had manipulated the majority and this clearly indicates the malafide intention of the speaker.
Justice Bobde asked: “If you want us to question the decision of the speaker, then in that case, we will have to issue a notice to him.” The judge asked Sibal if he was challenging the suitability of protem speaker. Sibal said that he does not question this, but the speaker has no right to manipulate the trust votes.
Sibal argued that if the protem speaker administers oath, he has no problem, but he should not provide vote of confidence.
Rohatgi objected to this argument.
Justice Bobde said: “Everything is fine, but if you raise the issue of the protem speaker, then the court will have to hear him. And under those conditions, it will be difficult to have a floor test today.”
Sibal then said that there is an order in favour of him stating that the protem speaker will have the powers of the speaker and the power to look into the trust votes.
Justice Sikri said: “If the protem speaker administers oath only, then who will do the floor test?”
Sibal then said that further the Supreme Court must issue a notice under article 142.
Justice Sikri asked: “What kind of an order? To appoint a protem speaker? That kind of a power is not in the hands of the judiciary.”
Sibal said: “Please direct the governor to appoint the senior-most member as protem speaker.”
However, the judges were not impressed with Sibal’s arguments
Justice Sikri said: “We may direct the speaker to follow the rules including division in the house.”
At that point Tushar Mehta suggested that there were television channels which can telecast the proceedings live. He said: “The speaker of the house has already stated that the floor test will be live telecast over local channels. What more transparency is needed?” Mehta was appearing for the governor.
The judges asked which channels are going to do this coverage. Rohatgi said several channels will air the in-house proceedings, subject to the list provided by the secretary.
Justice Bobde said: “If you want us to check suitability of appointment then there has to be a notice issued. Why this urgency?”
Sibal said: “We would have never come to your lordship if law and procedure were followed.”
Justice Sikri then dictated the order: “In view of the statements of ASG Tushar Mehta in regard to live telecast of proceedings of floor test and secrecy the legislature will also record it separately.”
At that point the court ordered that Sibal and Singhvi will not press their prayers in regard to protem speaker.
You can read the application for modification here.
Read the copy of judgement here.
– India Legal Bureau