In a breather to Tamil Nadu's AIADMK government led by Chief Minister K.Palaniswami, the Madras High Court on Thursday gave a split verdict in the case of disqualification of 18 rebel MLAs.Chief Justice Indira Banerjee upheld the disqualification ordered by Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P. Dhanapal while Justice M. Sundar held the Speaker's decision invalid.Justice Banerjee said in view of the contradicting judgements, the case will now be transferred to a third judge, adding that she she will not decide on the third judge and that decision will be taken by a senior judge, most likely Justice Kuluvadi Ramesh.Maintaining status quo, the court also said till the case is finally decided the interim order issued earlier that barred holding of by-elections and floor test in the Assembly continue to be valid.Responding to the judgment, rebel leader T.T.V. Dinakaran said: "The longevity of the anti-people government now gets extended by couple of months. It is not at all a setback for us. We got 50 per cent victory."Chief Justice Banerjee, in her judgment, said the Speaker's decision could not be called unreasonable and need not be interfered with by the court, but Justice Sundar said he differed, citing a Supreme Court judgement to say that the High Court can interfere in the order of the Speaker which was not within the confines of law.
Had the judgement gone either way - upholding the disqualification or setting aside the Speaker's order, the AIADMK government would have faced critical problems.In case the court had upheld the disqualification, then there would have been by-elections in 18 constituencies. If the DMK won all of them, then the government's survival would be in question.On other hand, if the court had quashed the Speaker's disqualification order, the government may still have to face a no-confidence motion, if moved by the DMK.The ruling party would also try to win over the 18 legislators now in Dinakaran camp.As per the party position in 234-member Tamil Nadu assembly, the AIADMK has 116 members followed by the DMK with 89, Congress with 8, one of the IUML, one Independent, the Speaker and 18 vacant seats. Besides, there is one nominated member.PMK founder S.Ramadoss said the state government is surviving mainly due to legal delays and others and the K. Palaniswami government has no justification to continue in power and should resign immediately.DMK leader M.K.Stalin, in a tweet, said: "Not only delayed justice is denied.... When people are having faith on the judiciary for protecting democracy. there should be clear and fast judgements."VCK leader Thol Thirumavalan termed the judgment "unexpected".
"The final decision on the case should be given at the earliest," Thirumavalavan added.The case comes from the time when Panneerselvam had rebelled against the party led by jailed leader V.K. Sasikala. Later, he merged his group with the one led by Palaniswami, who sidelined Sasikala and her nephew Dinakaran.A group of 19 lawmakers met then Governor C.V. Rao and gave a memorandum expressing loss of confidence in Palaniswami and requested him to appoint a new Chief Minister. The Speaker then issued notice to the lawmakers asking them why they should not be disqualified under the anti-defection law. Subsequently, one of them, S.T.K. Jakkaiyan, switched over to the Palaniswami side and the others were disqualified.The case filed by the disqualified legislators against the Speaker's action is pending before the High Court since September 2017. The court had reserved the judgement on January 24.Hours before the judgment, Tamil Nadu Advocate General Vijay Narayanan met Palaniswami.Earlier in the day, the disqualified lawmakers met Dinakaran and discussed the steps to be taken ahead.In April, in a different case, the Madras High Court had said it could not interfere with the Speaker's domain.On April 27, the court dismissed a petition filed by DMK Whip R. Sakkarapani seeking disqualification of 11 AIADMK legislators, including Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, for voting against the government during a confidence motion moved by Palaniswami on February 18 last year.The court said it had the power of judicial review of decisions taken but could not interfere in a matter where the Speaker had not taken a decision.It also referred to a case pending in the Supreme Court on a similar issue arising from Andhra Pradesh.