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Kerala Assembly ruckus: SC rejects state”s appeal for withdrawing case against LDF MLAs

The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a plea by the Kerala government for withdrawal of a criminal case against some LDF MLAs in connection with a ruckus in the state Assembly in 2015, saying allowing prosecution to be withdrawn would amount to interference in normal course of justice for “illegitimate reasons”.

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 the members of opposition.

“Privileges and immunities are not gateway to claim exemption from the general law of the land, particularly as in this case the criminal law which governs the action of every citizen,” a bench of justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah said.

The bench dismissed the appeals, including the one filed by the state against the March 12 order of the Kerala High Court which had dismissed the plea seeking withdrawal of criminal case lodged against some LDF MLAs in the matter.

The state assembly had witnessed unprecedented scenes on March 13, 2015 as LDF members, then in opposition, tried to prevent the then finance minister K M Mani, who was facing allegations in the bar bribery scam, from presenting the state budget.

Besides flinging the speaker”s chair from the podium, electronic equipment like computers, keyboards and mikes on the desk of the presiding officer were also allegedly damaged by the then LDF members.

While pronouncing the verdict, Justice Chandrachud said the purpose of bestowing privileges and immunity to the elected members of legislature is to enable them to perform their functions without hinderance, fear or favour.

“We miss the wood for the trees if we focus on rights without the corresponding duties cast upon elected public representatives,” the bench said.

It also observed that public prosecutor is duty bound to act independently.

“To allow the prosecution to be withdrawn in the face of these allegations, in respect of which, upon investigation, a final report has been submitted under section 173 of the CrPC and cognisance has been taken, would amount to an interference in the normal course of justice for illegitimate reasons,” it said.

The bench said allowing the prosecution to be withdrawn would only result in a singular result that elected representatives are exempt from the mandate of criminal law.

The apex court had reserved its verdict on the pleas on July 15.

The counsel appearing for the state government had argued that the incident happened in 2015 when there were allegations of corruption against the state government and the finance minister was about to table the budget in the House.

The counsel had said the FIR lodged by the secretary of Legislative Assembly did not have any constitutional backing as the Speaker had not given any sanction and to give quietus to the matter, the present government has moved an application for withdrawal of the prosecution.

He had argued that the act of the House members was covered under Legislative Privileges and the authority to take action against them vests with the Speaker, not the Legislative Secretary.

The lawyer representing some of the accused had said there is new government in place now and if the public prosecutor feels that it was a political issue, then it can be a ground for withdrawal.

The case, which also involves V Sivankutty who is a minister in the state, was registered against a group of the then LDF MLAs.

In its plea filed in the apex court against the high court order, the Kerala government had claimed that the high court had failed to appreciate that the alleged incident had occurred while the Assembly was in session and no crime could have been registered “without previous sanction” of the Speaker.

The state government had moved the high court against an order of the trial court which had dismissed an application filed by the public prosecutor seeking permission to withdraw from prosecution against the accused in the case.

The case was registered for the alleged offences under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 447 (criminal trespass), and under the provision of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.

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