Legislators of Tamil Nadu successfully restore their salary and benefits despite suspension

Supreme Court: Faced by another episode involving legislators creating a ruckus in the house, a division bench of J. Chelameswar and A.M. Sapre, JJ., while answering the question that whether a legislator exercises his freedom of speech and expression while participating in the proceedings of the House, and whether any legal action taken against the legislator by the House amounts to depriving the legislator of his freedom of speech and expression, noted that the rights available to a legislator are different from those available to him as a citizen. The Court decreed in favour of the legislators observing that there had been a violation of principles of natural justice in the conduct of the proceedings against them, which infringed their right under Article 14. The Court restored the salary and other benefits incidental to the membership of the assembly without touching the matter of suspension so pleaded.

In the present case, the petitioners are legislators of Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, who allegedly charged the podium of the Speaker after being enraged by his order of evicting a fellow legislator who resorted to unruly conduct. 19 members from DMDK party were immediately suspended. The resolution passed against the legislators in the House also suspended their salaries and other benefits for the period of suspension. The petitioners via Anil Kumar Mishra, argued that their rights under Articles 14, 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution had been infringed by the resolution. They also claimed that the principles of natural justice had been violated as they were not provided with a copy of the video proceedings, which was the main piece of evidence for the inquiry. The respondents represented by B. Balaji cited numerous witnesses to the incident as the main source of information for the inquiry.

The Court while alluding the clumsiness of the petitioner’s pleadings, focused upon establishing the difference between the constitutional rights of the legislators and their fundamental rights as citizens, thereby denying any violation of Articles 19 and 21 in any manner whatsoever, since the alleged act had been performed within the premises of legislators’ privilege. However, reflecting upon the argument of violation of principles of natural justice, the Court agreed with the petitioners that the Privileges Committee was under a procedural obligation to make the video recording available to the petitioners for them to have an opportunity to apply it to their defence. [Alagaapuram R. Mohanraj v. Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 134, decided on 12.02.2016]

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