Madras HC refers rebel AIADMK MLAs case to single-judge bench

Move comes as a huge relief for EPS and OPS as status quo continues in Tamil Nadu

[FILE] Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and his deputy O. Panneerselvam | PTI [FILE] Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and his deputy O. Panneerselvam | PTI

The Madras High Court on Thursday referred to a single-judge bench the decision of Speaker P. Dhanapal to disqualify 18 AIADMK MLAs who had petitioned the governor saying that they lost confidence on Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami. The move comes as a huge relief for EPS and OPS as status quo continues in Tamil Nadu. 

The High Court verdict was being seen as a crucial political development in the state that could have decided the future of the ruling united faction of the AIADMK led by Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam. The DMK-Congress combine, which has 98 MLAs, was expected to attempt to strengthen their presence while the position of rebel leader T.T.V. Dhinakaran remains in flux.

The two-member bench of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M. Sundar delivered a split verdict. While Banerjee upheld the speaker's decision, Sundar differed on it.

The HC's decision came 130 days after the court reserved its verdict in the case on January 23.

On September 18, 2017, Speaker Dhanapal disqualified 18 MLAs of the T.T.V. Dhinakaran faction, as they petitioned the then Governor C. VidhyaSagar Rao at the Raj Bhavan, saying they lost confidence on Chief Minister Palaniswami. Out of the 19 MLAs who first went to the governor, one MLA, S.T.K. Jakkaiyan, later switched sides to the EPS-OPS camp.

The speaker, by exercising his powers under the 10th schedule of the Constitution, which talks about the anti-defection law, and the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly rules of 1986 that deal with disqualification on the ground of defection, disqualified all the 18 MLAs. The constituencies were immediately declared vacant and it was published in the gazette. The Election Commission was also notified.

The trigger to the disqualification came a day after the EPS and OPS factions merged on August 22, 2017. Subsequently, Chief Government Whip S. Rajendiran petitioned the Speaker on August 24, asking him to disqualify the rebel MLAs. In his petition, Rajendran mentioned that “their actions amount to voluntarily giving up their membership of the AIADMK.”

However, in their defence, the MLAs said that just submitting of representations to the governor didn't amount to voluntarily giving up membership of the party. The MLAs quoted the judgement passed by the Supreme Court in Balchandra L. Jarkiholi versus B.S. Yeddiyurappa in 2011.

However, the speaker held that 18 MLAs were liable to be disqualified. He said that the decision was announced after discussions with the chief minister.

The MLAs who were disqualified are Thangatamilselvan (Andipatti constituency), R. Murugan (Harur), S. Mariappan Kennedy (Manamadurai), K. Karthirkamu (Periyakulam), C. Jayanthi Padmanabhan (Gudiyattam), P. Palaniappan (Pappireddipatti), V. Senthilbalaji (Aravakurichi), S. Muthiah (Paramakudi), P. Vetrivel (Perambur), N.G. Parthiban (Sholingur), M. Kothandapani (Tiruporur), T.A. Elumalai (Poonnamalee), M. Rengasamy (Thanjavur), R. Thangathurai (Nilakottai), R. Balasubramani (Ambur), Ethirkottai S.G. Subramanian (Sattur), R. Sundaraj (Ottapidaram) and K. Uma Maheswari (Vilathikulam).

All the 18 legislators challenged the speaker’s decision in the court. Initially, the case came up before Justice M. Duraiswamy. The writ petitions filed by the MLAs and a writ petition filed by DMK leader M.K. Stalin seeking a direction to hold a floor test were taken up for hearing. Along with these two, other petitions filed on September 20 seeking an interim order restraining the conduct of floor test and elections to the 18 constituencies, which fell vacant due to the disqualification orders, were also taken up.

Subsequently, the petitions were shifted to Justice K. Ravichandrababu. He referred all the cases to a division bench citing the constitutional issues involved in them. Later it was heard by the first bench for around three months and the orders in the case were reserved in January.