Writ Petition SummaryTamil Nadu MLA Suspension
Background and Issue
This writ petition was filed by six members of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly affiliated with the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) party. The lead petitioner is the Vice President of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly.
On February 19th, 2015, the petitioners were suspended for ‘unruly behaviour’ during an Assembly session. The Assembly’s Privilege Committee prepared a draft report recommending the suspension of the six petitioners. The Legislative Assembly passed a resolution on the same day, suspending them for the ongoing session.
On the recommendation of the Privilege Committee, the Legislative Assembly passed another resolution, suspending the petitioners for the first 10 days of the next session. Further, they also withdrew the suspended members’ salaries and benefits for the term of their suspension. This resolution was passed on March 31st, 2015.
The petitioners challenged this order in the Supreme Court on May 7th 2015.
What do the petitioners seek?
The petitioners requested the Court to –
- Declare that the resolutions passed in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly were unconstitutional, illegal and void;
- Permit the petitioners to use their office and residential spaces;
- Restore all benefits to the suspended members;
- Declare that the proceedings of breach of privilege were illegal, failed to comply with the principles of natural justice and violated the Tamil Nadu Payment of Salaries Act, 1951.
Privileges Committee Not Empowered to Prescribe Punishment
The petitioners argue that the scope of the proceedings of the Privilege Committee must be limited to what happens inside the Legislature and not beyond it. This limitation is provided in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Rules (Updated as on April 3rd 2012) read with Article 208 (Rules of Procedure) of the Constitution of India, 1950.
The Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Rules (TNLA Rules) lay down the purpose and powers of the Privilege Committee. The Committee is empowered to only determine whether a member has breached privilege – not to prescribe punishment.
The petitioners further argue that they can only be suspended for the remainder of an ongoing session. A suspension cannot carry over to the following session, as per Article 190(4) of the Constitution.
Article 190(4) states that if a member of the Legislature is absent for 60 days without permission, the House may declare the seat vacant. This implies that there is an inherent restriction on suspending MLA’s for more than 60 days. In this case, the petitioners are effectively being suspended for one year which would extend past the 60 day restriction.
Resolutions Violate the Rights to Equality, Freedom of Speech and Livelihood
The petitioners claim that they were given no opportunity or time to state their case. Further, they claim that there is a lack of substantive evidence regarding their role in the incident. No videograph was produced, nor is there an explanation of specific involvement in the damage that was caused. This meant that the resolutions passed was arbitrary and unreasonable and therefore violated Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.