Judgment in Plain English

Tamil Nadu MLA Suspension

The misbehaviour of the members of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies has often made the news. One such instance occurred when six members of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) were suspended without pay by the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Legislature for their disruptive behaviour. This suspension was upheld by a Privileges Committee. The MLAs filed a petition in the Supreme Court claiming that their right to freedom of occupation and right to speak freely in a Legislature were being violated.

The Court referred to Articles 105 and 195 of the Constitution which provided the members of Parliament and State Legislatures with a freedom of speech. The Articles also say that the members have a privilege that they cannot be accused of anything they have said during their participation in such proceedings of the House. Differentiating the scope of the two articles of the Constitution, the court held that the right to freedom of speech of the MLAs was not violated.

On the question of Article 19(1)(g), whether the right to freedom of occupation was violated, the Court cited Sodan Singh v New Delhi Municipal Committee (1989) and T.M.A Pai Foundation v State of Karnataka (2002) and held that activities that fall under ‘occupation’ are essentially activities which enable a citizen to generate economic benefits. The Court further explained that contesting elections in India is not a fundamental right, so the MLAs right to freedom of ‘occupation’ had not been violated.

The MLAs had also claimed that their suspension amounted to a violation of the right to life as they had lost their salaries and benefits. Citing Raja Ram Pal v Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha and Others (2007), the court clarified that salary and other benefits to which the members of a legislative body are entitled to during their tenure are purely incidental to the membership and they don’t even create an independent and indefeasible constitutional right. Hence, the right to life of the MLAs was not violated by the suspension of these benefits.

The final contention on the part of the MLAs was to do with the Privileges Committee. The Privileges Committee largely based its decision on a video recording of the incident and this video recording was not shared with the MLAs – which deprived them the opportunity to defend or explain themselves or even comment on the content and authenticity of the video. Citing Jagjit Singh v State of Haryana (2006), the Court held that the Privileges Committee should have offered this opportunity to the MLAs. The Court set aside the Resolution passed and ordered to restore the salaries and benefits to the MLAs.