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Defection row
SC stays HC order, restores status of 5 Haryana MLAs
R Sedhuraman
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, January 4
In a major relief to the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government, the Supreme Court today restored the status of five Haryana MLAs, including Cabinet ministers Rao Narendra Singh and Satpal Sangwan, who were declared “unattached members” by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on December 20, 2011.

A Bench comprising Justices Altamas Kabir and SS Nijjar stayed the HC verdict, which had also asked Speaker Kuldeep Sharma to decide by April 30 on the plea for disqualification of the five MLAs for allegedly defecting from the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC-BL) to the Congress in 2009. HJC chief Kuldeep Singh Bishnoi has pleaded for their disqualification.

The Bench passed the stay order after hearing the arguments of Attorney General GE Vahanvati, who appeared for the Speaker, and counsel for the five legislators who have challenged the HC verdict. Besides the ministers, the other three MLAs are Vinod Bhayana, Zile Ram Sharma and Dharam Singh. While the five MLAs have filed three petitions, the Speaker has filed a separate plea challenging the “strictures” passed against him by the high court.

The stay order has facilitated the continuance of two MLAs as ministers. The five MLAs would now be in a position to discharge their duties as legislators, besides being treated as Congress members of the House. The HC ruling had reduced the Congress government to a minority with just 41 MLAs in the 90-member House. However, its survival was not threatened as it enjoyed the support of 7 Independents.

The SC today also issued notice to Bishnoi, the Election Commission and other respondents seeking their response within four weeks. The MLAs would file their replies after that. The Bench slated the next hearing for February 15.

Earlier, pleading for a stay on the HC order, Vahanvati contended that Kuldeep Sharma took over as the Speaker in 2011. However, the disqualification proceedings had been pending since 2009, he said. Besides complying with the HC order seeking a status report, the Speaker was conducting the proceedings on the disqualification plea regularly despite a marriage in the family and an ailing father. It was unfortunate that the Speaker was “treated badly” by the HC, the AG argued.

The AG also contended that on several occasions the HC had adopted unusual procedures for hearing the case. It was not known “under what circumstances” the HC took up the case for hearing on October 12, 2011, nearly three months after reserving its judgment on July 20.

On October 12, the HC asked the Speaker to file a status report on the disqualification proceedings by November 17, 2011. The status report was filed by Vidhan Sabha’s Additional Secretary Kuldip Singh within a week on October 19, but the HC rejected it on October 21 and passed a fresh order asking the Speaker to file a proper report by November 1, advancing the earlier deadline of November 17 without assigning any reason.

However, the deadline was extended till November 30 on a plea by the Speaker in the wake of his daughter’s marriage. Nevertheless, the Speaker submitted the status report on November 17, which was taken on record by the HC the following day. Further, the Speaker was asked to produce complete records of the Assembly proceedings on the issue.

The HC then went on to deliver its verdict on December 20 without giving an opportunity to the Speaker to explain the status report or the House proceedings. The HC also “selectively” read into its verdict points from the status report.

The AG also pointed out that the HC asked the Speaker to dispose of the disqualification plea within four months despite the voluminous work involved in it, while the court itself took five months to deliver its verdict after reserving it.

The Bench did not accept the plea of Bhishnoi’s counsel Satya Pal Jain that the Speaker should be asked to comply with the HC order for taking a decision on the disqualification petition by April 30.





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