Acts of indiscipline inside Parliament and state assemblies cannot be condoned, said the Supreme Court on Monday, taking a strict view of an incident which took place in March 2015 when four former members of legislative assembly (MLA) and two others, who are presently MLAs in the Kerala Assembly, created a ruckus inside the House to protest the presentation of the finance budget.
“This kind of behaviour is unacceptable,” said a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah pointing to the unruly behaviour shown by the accused legislators in the House by climbing on to the Speaker’s dais, throwing mikes and destroying public property worth over ₹2.20 lakh.
“Such kinds of incidents are increasing and they are happening even in Parliament. We can’t condone the behaviour of MLAs who disrupt House by throwing the mike and destroying public property,” the bench observed.
The Court was dealing with separate appeals filed by the accused legislators and the state against an order of the Kerala High Court of March 12 this year that viewed the incident and refused to go with the decision taken by the public prosecutor to withdraw cases against the six accused – KT Jaleel, V Sivankutty, CK Sadasivan, EP Jayarajan, K Ajith and Kunjammadu Master.
The comments by the top court could spell trouble for Jaleel and Sivankutty who are presently MLAs while Sivankutty is also the education minister. The case against them has been lodged under Sections 447 (criminal trespass) and Section 427 (causing mischief) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 3(1) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act. The latter provision is punishable with a maximum sentence of five years. In the event they are convicted and the sentence awarded is more than two years, the present MLAs will incur disqualification under the Representation of Peoples Act to continue in office.
Holding a prima facie view in favour of the High Court, the top court said, “We must ensure some modicum of decorum is maintained in legislative bodies. These are sentinels of democracy. They are MLAs and they represent the people. What is the message being given that my MLA is behaving in this manner? They have to face trial. There cannot be any deference to such kind of behaviour.”
The incident took place on March 13, 2015. The case was investigated by the Kerala police and a final report was submitted to the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Thiruvanthapuram.
After the trial court took cognizance of the charges in the year 2019, the Left Front government, through public prosecutor, sought withdrawal of cases against the accused. This power is available to the public prosecutor under Section 321 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The Chief Judicial Magistrate refused withdrawal, a view that the Kerala High Court concurred with.
The Kerala government, through senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, replied on the privileges of MLAs and the immunity granted against criminal prosecution for proceedings inside the House.
“The MLAs in question were suspended for seven days. They have a right to protest and they protested against the tabling of Budget by the then Finance Minister who was corrupt.” The then finance minister, KM Mani, whose party, Kerala Congress (Mani), is part of the present Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
The bench asked the state, “What is the larger public interest in shielding MLAs who have disrupted the House proceedings and avoided presentation of Budget by the Finance Minister. Budget presentation is of utmost importance irrespective of the personality who is submitting it.”
On the right to protest, the Court refused to approve such manner of protest as it said, “Prima facie, we have to take a strict view of this kind of behaviour.” The matter has now been posted to July 15 as the state requested time to provide case laws in support of its argument.
In its judgment of March 12, the single judge bench of Justice VG Arun had said that privileges and immunities are provided to MLAs to ensure smooth functioning of the House and not to disrupt the proceedings of the assembly session. Further, the HC took note of Clause 44 of the ‘Code of Conduct for the Members of the Kerala Legislative Assembly’ which exhorts members to safeguard public property and abjure violence.