The Assembly Secretary and the Committee of Privileges have preferred individual writ appeals before the Madras High Court, challenging an order passed by a single judge on September 24 staying the breach of privilege proceedings initiated against DMK president M.K. Stalin and 17 other MLAs belonging to his party.
The appellants said the Assembly Secretary alone was represented before the single judge when the new writ petitions filed by the 18 MLAs were listed for admission on September 23. But the judge mistook it as though the Committee of Privileges and its chairman Pollachi V. Jayaraman were also represented before the court, they said.
Even on merits, the single judge’s order was erroneous, contrary to law, and had been passed on complete non-appreciation of facts, the appellants claimed. They said the judge ought not to have entertained the writ petitions which had challenged the show cause notices issued in accordance with the liberty granted by the first Division Bench of the court.
The breach of privilege proceedings were initiated against the DMK MLAs for displaying gutkha (chewing tobacco) sachets in the Assembly on July 19, 2017. The first batch of show cause notices was issued to them by the Committee of Privileges in August 2017. Immediately, they moved the High Court and obtained interim relief, which was in operation for three years.
After taking up the cases for final hearing last month, Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy on August 25 held that the 2017 show cause notices suffered from the foundational error of presuming that the MLAs’ conduct was against the government ban on manufacture, transportation, storage, distribution and sale of gutkha.
The Bench left it open to the Committee of Privileges, if it so chooses, to deliberate on the matter further and issue fresh show cause notices if it was still of the opinion that a breach of the privileges of the House had been committed by the MLAs. It also gave liberty to the MLAs to raise any objections available in law before the Committee.
Despite such a clear finding by the Bench, the single judge had stayed the fresh show cause notices issued on September 7. “The learned judge had erred in rendering nugatory the conclusions of the honourable Division Bench. The learned judge, by entertaining the new writ petitions had, in fact, acted contrary to the orders of the Bench,” the appellants said.
The Committee of Privileges also stated that its proceedings were actually a part of the proceedings of the House and hence, the courts should respect the doctrine of separation of powers of the legislature and the judiciary, and thereby refrain from interfering in its proceedings, especially at the preliminary stage of issuance of show cause notices.