India

Kerala LDF leaders’ behaviour can’t be condoned: Supreme Court

Current Education Minister is among those facing charges for vandalism in Assembly in 2015

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will not condone the behaviour of Kerala’s Left Democratic Front (LDF) leaders, including the current Education Minister V. Sivankutty, who created a ruckus and indulged in vandalism on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, disrupting the presentation of the finance budget in 2015.

The televised images from the day of the incident, during the United Democratic Front (UDF) government’s tenure, show legislators coming to blows on the House floor and hurling chairs, computers and other public property, soon after the then Finance Minister K.M. Mani began his budget speech.

The MLAs are facing charges of criminal trespass, mischief and destruction of public property. The State government and the accused have separately appealed to the court for withdrawal of the case.

‘Must face trial’

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah, however, took a prima facie view against the conduct of the MLAs. Justice Chandrachud said legislators accused of destroying public property should face trial or there would be “absolutely no deterrent to this kind of behaviour”.

During the hearing, the court disagreed with the Kerala government’s view that the then Opposition MLAs were only acting in “public interest” and exercising their “right to protest”.

“What is the larger ‘public interest’ in obstructing the presentation of the State’s financial budget? Prima facie, we have to take a very strict view of such behaviour. We will not condone such behaviour by MLAs — throwing mics, chairs on the floor of the House,” Justice Chandrachud told senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, who appeared for the State.

Justice Shah wanted to know what “message” the MLAs had intended to give the public with their behaviour. “These are people’s representatives. What will the people think seeing their leaders behave like this on the floor of the House?” Justice Shah asked.

Locus standi questioned

When Mr. Kumar said prior sanction of the Speaker was required before registration of criminal cases against the MLAs, Justice Shah questioned the State government’s locus standi in seeking withdrawal of the case against the legislators.

“Why are you [the State] saying all this? It is for the accused to make the plea, and not for the State. The State cannot seek withdrawal of the case. That is the prerogative of the Public Prosecutor,” Justice Shah repeatedly pointed out.

Mr. Kumar said the “protest” was triggered by the fact that then Finance Minister was facing “corruption” allegations.

“So, you obstruct the budget presentation? Irrespective of the Finance Minister, the budget was being presented… You have to protest in a manner befitting MLAs…” Justice Chandrachud shot back.

Parliamentary privilege

The court did not issue notice on the separate appeals. Justice Chandrachud said the case would be listed on July 15 to hear submissions on certain judgments the State and the accused wanted to present before the court in connection with the case.

The State has argued that the legislators’ actions were protected from legal action by parliamentary privilege. It has contended that the Assembly Secretary should not have complained against the MLAs to the police without taking the prior sanction of the Speaker.

The Public Prosecutor’s application to withdraw the cases was dismissed by the Thiruvananthapuram Chief Judicial Magistrate on September 22, last year. The Magistrate had concluded that the request was made “without good faith and under external influence”. The High Court confirmed the Magistrate’s decision in March.


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