Privilege Committee cannot violate Principles of Natural Justice, SC quashes TN Assembly Resolution suspending DMDK MLAs for Breach of Privilege [Read Judgment]
A two Judge Bench of Supreme Court Today quashed a resolution passed by Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly suspending DMDK MLAs for breach of privilege. The Bench comprising of Justices J.Chelameswar and Abhay Manohar Sapre has held that while taking action against the MLAs, the requirements of Article 14 were not complied with.
By a resolution of the assembly dated 19.02.2015, nineteen members of the Tamil Nadu assembly, have been suspended from the House for the remainder of the period of the then current Session for allegedly obstructing the proceedings of the legislative assembly. Subsequently, a Privileges Committee was constituted to inquire into whether the conduct of the members during the incident dated 19.02.2015 amounted to a breach of privilege. The Privileges Committee held that the actions of the six petitioners were a breach of privilege, and recommended the action to be taken against the six petitioners. Such a recommendation was passed by a resolution of the assembly dated 31.03.2015. Through this resolution, the petitioners were suspended for a period of ten days of the next session of the House. Further, it was resolved that the petitioners should not be paid their salaries or given other benefits which are due to them as members of the Legislative Assembly for the period of suspension. Six of the MLs challenged the resolution in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.
Regarding the Maintainability of the Writ Petition under Article 32, the petitioners raised the following points;
(1) That the petitioners’ fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g), 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution have been violated by the impugned resolution;
(2) Supreme Court in the case of Raja Ram Pal v. Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha & Others, (2007) 3 SCC 184, examined the constitutionality of the proceedings of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. Therefore, the present petition also is maintainable.
But the Bench held that Raja Ram Pal case is not an authority for the proposition that a writ petition such as the one on hand is maintainable under Article 32. According to the Bench, in order to maintain the present petition, the question whether there is any breach of fundamental rights of the petitioners is required to be examined.
Regarding the violation of Article 19(1)(a), the Court held that though there is a curtailment of the petitioners’ right of free speech in the Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu to which they are entitled under Article 194 by virtue of the impugned order, the said impugned order does not, in the context, violate the fundamental rights of the petitioners guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a).
Regarding the violation of Article 19(1)(g) the Court held as follows;
“The economic underpinnings of an ‘occupation’ under Article 19(1)(g) and the transient and incidental nature of economic benefits flowing from the office of a legislator must inevitably lead to the conclusion that a member of the legislative assembly cannot be treated as pursuing an ‘occupation’ under Article 19(1)(g). We, therefore, reject the contention that the issue at hand involves the rights of the petitioners under Article 19(1)(g)”
The Court also repelled the contention that by virtue of the impugned action the petitioners have been deprived of their salaries and other benefits incidental to the membership of the legislative assembly during the period of suspension and, therefore, it is violative of their fundamental right under Article 21.
But the Court accepted the contention of the Petitioners that impugned proceedings are violative of the fundamental right of the petitioners under Article 14 and the said proceedings have been taken in violation of the principles of natural justice.
It is argued that the Privileges Committee relied upon certain video recordings for arriving at the conclusion that the petitioners are guilty of conduct which is in breach of the privileges of the house but a copy of the video recording was not provided to the petitioners.
“The principles of natural justice require that the petitioners ought to have been granted an opportunity to see the video recording. Perhaps they might have had an opportunity to explain why the video recording does not contain any evidence/material for recommending action against all or some of them or to explain that the video recording should have been interpreted differently”
“The Privileges Committee should have necessarily offered this opportunity, in order to make the process adopted by it compliant with the requirements of Article 14”, said the Court
“The failure to supply a copy of the video recording or affording an opportunity to the petitioners to view the video recording relied upon by the committee in our view clearly resulted in the violation of the principles of natural justice i.e. a denial of a reasonable opportunity to meet the case”, the bench added
The Court thereby quashed the resolution and directed to restore the salary and other benefits incidental to the membership of the assembly to the MLAs.
Read the Judgment here.