Chennai: In a breather to the AIADMK government, the Madras High Court on Thursday gave a split verdict in the case of disqualification of 18 rebel-AIADMK MLAs.
Chief Justice Indira Banerjee upheld the disqualification of the 18 legislators ordered by Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P. Dhanapal while companion judge Justice M. Sundar held that the Speaker's decision was invalid.
Justice Banerjee said in view of the contradicting judgements, the case will now be transferred to a third judge. The Chief Justice made it clear that she will not decide on the third judge and that decision will be taken by a senior judge.
Justice Kuluvadi Ramesh is most likely to decide the name of the third judge.
Maintaining status quo, the court also said till the case is finally decided, no by-elections should be held.
The Chief Justice in her judgement said the Speaker's decision could not be called unreasonable and need not be interfered with by the court.
On the other hand, Justice Sundar said he differed with the Chief Justice and cited a Supreme Court judgement to say that the High Court can interfere in the order of the Speaker which was not within the confines of law.
Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker Dhanapal had disqualified 18 legislators after they met the Governor and gave a memorandum expressing loss of confidence in Chief Minister K. Palaniswami and requested him to appoint a new Chief Minister.
The case filed by the disqualified legislators against the Speaker's action is pending before the High Court since September, 2017. The court had reserved the judgement on January 24.
Hours before the judgement, Tamil Nadu Advocate General Vijay Narayanan met Palaniswami.
Earlier in the day, the disqualified law makers met sidelined AIADMK leader T.T.V. Dinakaran and discussed the steps to be taken ahead.
As per the party position in Tamil Nadu assembly, the ruling AIADMK has 116 members followed by DMK-89, Congress-8, IUML-1, Independent-1, the Speaker and 18 vacant seats, totalling 234. Besides, there is one nominated member.
In April, in a different case, the Madras High Court had said it could not interfere in the Assembly Speaker's domain.
On April 27, the court dismissed a petition seeking disqualification of 11 AIADMK legislators, including Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, for voting against the government during a confidence motion moved by Palaniswami last year.
Dismissing the petition filed by DMK Whip R. Sakkarapani, the court said it could not interfere in the Assembly Speaker's domain.
The court said it had the power of judicial review of decisions taken but could not interfere in a matter where the Speaker had not taken a decision.
It also referred to a case pending in the Supreme Court on a similar issue arising from Andhra Pradesh.
The disqualification petition was filed against 11 AIADMK legislators for voting against the confidence motion on Palaniswami government on February 18, 2017, defying the party whip.
At that time, Panneerselvam had rebelled against the party led by jailed leader V.K. Sasikala. Later, Panneerselvam merged his group with the one led by Palaniswami who sidelined Sasikala and her relative T.T.V. Dinakaran.
The petition for disqualification was filed by Sakkarapani soon after Assembly Speaker Dhanapal disqualified 18 legislators owing allegiance to sidelined AIADMK leader Dinakaran.
The legislators belonging to Dinakaran camp had also written to the Governor expressing their loss of confidence in Palaniswai and requested him to appoint a new Chief Minister.
The case was filed by the disqualified legislators against the Speaker's action.
A total of 19 AIADMK legislators had submitted a letter to the then Governor C.V. Rao withdrawing support to Palaniswami.
They asked the Governor to initiate the process to install a new Chief Minister. Dhanapal issued notice to the 19 lawmakers asking them why they should not be disqualified under the anti-defection law.
Subsequently, one of the MLAs, S.T.K. Jakkaiyan, switched over to the Palaniswami side and Dhanapal disqualified the remaining 18 lawmakers.