New Delhi: In a major blow to the ruling BJP in Karnataka, the Supreme Court on Friday quashed the Assembly Speaker's decision to disqualify 16 MLAs ahead of the no confidence motion last year which had ensured survival of the Yeddyurappa government.
A bench headed by justice Altamas Kabir while quashing the speaker's decision said basic constitutional values and principles of natural justice were not observed by Speaker K G Bopaiah in disqualifying the 11 rebel BJP and five independent legislators.
The apex court passed the order while setting aside the Karnataka High Court order upholding the Speaker's decision, aggrieved by which the disqualified legislators had moved the apex court.
The 16 MLAs withdrew their support to the government on October 6 last year and were suspended on October 11.
The apex court ruling came on an appeal by four of the 11 disqualified BJP MLAs in Karnataka against the high court order upholding the Speaker's decision.
The apex court bench had reserved its verdict on the appeal on February 11 after hearing at length counsel for the four MLAs - Gopala Krishana Belur, Shivanagaouda Naik, Shanker Linge Gowda and Bellubbi, besides lawyers for Chief Minister B S Yeddyuruppa and the Assembly Speaker.
Eleven rebel BJP MLAs and five independent ones were disqualified by the Speaker on the eve of the voting on a no-trust motion against Chief Minister Yeddyurappa's government.
The MLAs were disqualified as it was apprehended that they would support the no-trust motion against the government during the voting.
The 16 MLAs had withdrawn their support to the government on October 6 last year and were suspended on October 11.
In their appeal, the MLAs had contended that their disqualification had raised substantial questions of constitutional and administrative laws of public importance having serious implications for the democratic representative government and involving an interpretation of the provisions of the Tenth Schedule and the rules made thereunder.
The legislators had submitted that they had made a categorical statement in their replies to the show-cause notice issued by the Speaker before their suspension that they had no intention at all to leave BJP or the membership of its legislature party and that their letter to the Governor was aimed at "cleansing the image of the party by getting rid of Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister."
According to the petition, democratic dissent, without any intention of leaving the party but in the hope of saving its image and reputation by getting rid of a "corrupt" Chief Minister, cannot be regarded as voluntarily giving up the party membership as such.
It was submitted that they were disqualified before the voting actually took place in the Assembly apprehending that they would vote against the Chief Minister on the specious ground that they had voluntarily given up BJP membership.
The Karnataka High Court had upheld the disqualification of 11 rebel BJP MLAs on October 29.
Karnataka Congress leader Siddaramaiah welcomes SC decision
Opposition Congress Leader in the Karnataka Assembly Siddaramaiah on Friday said the Supreme Court has done justice to 16 MLAs, whom the state assembly Speaker had disqualified "unconstitutionally".
"The injustice meted out to five independents and 11 BJP MLAs has been rectified by the Supreme Court. These MLAs were disqualified to save the Yeddyurappa government. Otherwise, the BJP government would have collapsed in October last year," Siddaramaiah told PTI.
"While rejecting the petition by five Independents on October 13, on the eve of the second trust vote taken by Yeddyurappa, for interim prayers to permit them to vote in the floor test, the High Court had subjected the outcome to its verdict. Now the Supreme Court has given the verdict. Let us see what is going to happen," he said.
BJP government's survival vis-a-vis its continuance now hinges on the decision of the 11 BJP rebel MLAs, he said.
"However, the five independents can take whatever decision they want", he said.
Asked whether the Congress will seek intervention of Governor H R Bhardwaj in the light of the fresh development, Siddaramaiah said he would consult KPCC President G Parameshwara and other leaders.
The Yeddyurappa government has now been reduced to a minority in the 224-member assembly as it commands a strength of only 109 members including Speaker K G Bopaiah. The Congress has 71 and JDS 26. The BJP also has the support of the lone Independent Varthur Prakash.
Sixteen MLAs whose disqualification was set aside by the Supreme Court will decide the government's fate. The House has one vacancy caused by resignation of assembly membership by JDS member Karadi Sanganna (Koppal constituency).