HC annuls suspension of 7 Delhi BJP MLAs, says punishment not sustainable

HC annuls suspension of 7 Delhi BJP MLAs, says punishment not sustainable

New Delhi | The Delhi High Court struck down on Wednesday the state assembly speaker's order suspending seven BJP MLAs for interrupting Lieutenant Governor V K Saxena's customary address to the Budget session, holding that the punishment awarded was in "excess" of the rule invoked by the chair. It allowed the MLAs to attend the session forthwith, saying the penalty was not "sustainable".

In a relief to the BJP MLAs, Justice Subramonium Prasad said the punishment was not in accordance with the legal framework and there was no independent application of mind by Speaker Ram Niwas Goel in referring the matter to the Privileges Committee.

"The decision of the House to send the issue before the Committee of Privileges without the Speaker independently applying his mind as postulated under Rule 70 of Chapter XI (of rules of procedure and conduct of business of the Delhi assembly) and the decision of the House to suspend the Petitioners till the Committee of Privileges takes decision both are in violation of the procedure prescribed under the Fifth Schedule (pertaining to Code of Conduct) and Chapter XI," the court said.

"Since the petitioners have already undergone the suspension of 14 sittings, this court is of the opinion that the Petitioners should be permitted to re-join the House forthwith," it added.

The seven Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs -- Mohan Singh Bisht, Ajay Mahawar, O P Sharma, Abhay Verma, Anil Bajpai, Jitender Mahajan and Vijender Gupta -- moved the court last month, challenging their suspension from the assembly till the conclusion of the proceedings pending before the privileges committee.

The judge said the petitioners have been "given a punishment in excess of what could have been given under the rule invoked". Justice Prasad said they have actually been awarded the punishment of indefinite suspension as per another provision without even being heard which has been held to be invalid by the Supreme Court.

The MLAs had contended that their suspension till the conclusion of the proceedings before the privileges committee was in violation of the applicable legal provisions.

The assembly authorities had, on the other hand, told the court that their suspension was not an attempt to stifle dissent but a "self-discipline" mechanism in the face of a "series of misdemeanours" by the opposition legislators.

In the judgement, Justice Prasad said the suspension of the petitioners till the Committee of Privileges has taken a decision was not one of the prescribed punishments and the rule invoked does not stipulate suspension for an "indefinite period".

"For a breach of Code of Conduct, the petitioners could have been given only any one of the punishments provided under Clause 44 of the Fifth Schedule which does not stipulate a suspension for an indefinite period. Since the suspension can be only for a specific period and not indefinitely i.e., till the Committee of Privileges takes a decision on the question of breach of privilege, the suspension of the Petitioners till the Committee of Privileges takes a decision is, therefore, beyond the purview of Clause 44 of the Fifth Schedule and is, therefore, unsustainable," observed the court.

It said Rule 70 of Chapter XI gives power to the speaker, and no one else, to exercise the discretion to refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges for examination but the provision was not adhered to.

"Rule 70 of Chapter XI has not been followed in this case. The Speaker who is an impartial arbitrator and conducts the House has not taken any decision independently and has not held that the matter is one that requires to be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

"In the absence of any application of mind by the Speaker in referring the matter to the Committee of Privileges and in view of the fact that the petitioners have not been heard while being given punishment of suspension till the Committee of Privileges decides the matter and since the punishment under Rule 77 of Chapter XI can be prescribed only after a Member is heard, the direction for suspending the Petitioners till the Committee of Privileges takes a decision cannot be sustained," the court said.

The BJP lawmakers had interrupted Saxena multiple times during his address on February 15 as he highlighted the achievements of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in the national capital.

AAP MLA Dilip Pandey had subsequently moved a resolution in the House for their suspension. The resolution was adopted and Speaker Ram Niwas Goel referred the issue to the privileges committee.

Barring Leader of Opposition Ramvir Singh Bidhuri, all BJP lawmakers were barred from attending the proceedings.

The session was extended till the first week of March due to a delay in finalisation of the budget.

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