SC deals Kerala govt a blow in ruckus case; Sivankutty, Jaleel and four others to face trial
The apex court said acts of destruction of public property cannot be equated with either the freedom of speech of the legislator or with forms of protest legitimately available to Opposition.
NEW DELHI/T’PURAM : The state government on Wednesday paid a heavy price for ignoring warnings from the law department and initiating a legal battle to withdraw criminal cases registered against two current and four former LDF MLAs accused in the assembly ruckus case of 2015. The Supreme Court dismissed the state’s appeal and upheld the Thiruvananthapuram chief judicial magistrate court’s order to go ahead with prosecution proceedings, which was earlier approved by the Kerala High Court.
As a result, the six accused, including General Education Minister V Sivankutty and sitting MLA K T Jaleel, will have to face prosecution for charges levelled against them under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act of 1984. The SC order is historic as it has set a guideline to deal with similar cases of acts of violence happening inside assemblies and Parliament. The court has drawn the line between a legislator’s privilege and the act of violence he/she commits.
The SC bench, comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah, observed that there has been a growing recognition and consensus both in the apex court and in Parliament that acts of destruction of public and private property in the name of protests should not be tolerated.
“Privileges and immunities are not gateways to claim exemptions from the general law of the land. To claim an exemption from the application of criminal law would be to betray the trust put in the character of elected representatives as the makers and enactors of the law. Acts of vandalism cannot be said to be manifestations of the freedom of speech and be termed as proceedings of the assembly,” the order said.
Respects SC ruling, will face trial: Sivankutty
The State of Kerala and the accused persons had raised an argument that the criminal prosecution was not sustainable against the members for acts committed on the floor of the House as they are protected by legislative privileges under Article 194 of the Constitution.
“The purpose of bestowing privileges and immunities on elected members of the legislature is to enable them to perform their functions without hindrance, fear or favour. It is to create an environment in which they can perform their functions and discharge their duties freely that the Constitution recognises privileges and immunities.
These privileges bear a functional relationship to the discharge of the functions of a legislator. They are not a mark of status which makes legislators stand on an unequal pedestal,” the bench held, adding that acts of vandalism cannot be said to be manifestations of the freedom of speech and be termed proceedings of the assembly. “It was not the intention of the drafters of the Constitution to extend the interpretation of ‘freedom of speech’ to include criminal acts by placing them under a veil of protest. Hence, the Constitution only grants the members the freedom of speech that is necessary for their active participation in meaningful deliberation without any fear of prosecution,” the bench added.
The court also criticised the public prosecutor who filed the closure petition without applying his mind. The court reminded that the prosecutor needed to apply his mind in such a situation and take a judicious decision.
Responding to the SC verdict, Sivankutty said he respected the ruling and would face trial as directed by the court. He ruled out his resignation as demanded by the opposition UDF. The CPM state secretariat had reached an understanding earlier that there was no need for the minister to resign even if the court verdict is against him as the case related to a democratic protest and not any major crime. Moreover, there are no specific remarks in the verdict against the minister.
THE IGNOMINIOUS INCIDENT
March 13, 2015
The case pertains to the damage to public property, especially on the speaker’s dais, by LDF MLAs to prevent the budget presentation by K M Mani
The FIR alleges that legislators E P Jayarajan, K T Jaleel, V Sivanku-tty, K Ajith, C K Sadasivan and K Kunjahammed destroyed public property worth I2.20 lakh
Sivankutty’s decision unprecedented?
When minister V Sivankutty appears at the CJM Court to be tried as an accused in a crimi-nal case, it will be a spectacle rarely witnessed in state’s politics. To avoid the awkwardness of facing trial while in office, ministers from both fronts used to quit whenever courts pointed fingers of suspicion at them, reports B Sreejan.