‘Possession, consumption of gutkha had not been banned’
DMK president and Leader of the Opposition M.K. Stalin on Wednesday claimed that the breach of privilege proceedings initiated against him and his party MLAs for displaying gutkha sachets in the Legislative Assembly on July 19, 2017, would get vitiated since Speaker P. Dhanapal had “predetermined” the issue before referring it to the Committee of Privileges.
Appearing before Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy on behalf of Mr. Stalin, senior counsel R. Shunmugasundaram said while making a suo motu reference to the Committee of Privileges, the Speaker had said that he “considers” the act of displaying sachets of a banned substance in the State as a breach of privilege. Such a remark should have been avoided, counsel said.
When the judges wanted to know whether the Speaker was not entitled to form a prima facie opinion before referring the issue to the committee, senior counsel N.R. Elango and advocate Amit Anand Tiwari, representing the other DMK MLAs, said whenever the Speaker expresses his/her opinion in the House, it gets recorded as his/her ruling and not just an opinion.
On a specific query from Justice Ramamoorthy as to how the remark of the Speaker would matter when he was not part of the committee, Mr. Shunmugasundaram said: “He is above all. He is the supreme body. His deputy is the chairman of the committee. He should not have said that he considers the act to be a breach of privilege. He should have simply recorded the happenings and left it to the committee to decide.”
The senior counsel went on to state that only sale, storage and transportation of gutkha had been banned in the State. Possession and even consumption had not been banned. Therefore, the MLAs could not be subjected to breach of privilege for having been in possession of the gutkha sachets, which were brought to the House to substantiate their claim that the reportedly banned substance was available freely in the State. He also pointed out that gutkha was not in the list of items that were prohibited from being carried inside the House.
Claiming that the Speaker had referred the issue to the committee only after the interference of Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, who considered the act to be aimed at bringing disrepute to the government, he said, the Speaker was actually more bothered about the sachets having been displayed without his prior permission.
“It implies that the sachets could have been displayed with his prior permission. Further, as per the Assembly rules, any action against breach of privilege committed when the House is in session should be taken immediately and put for voting in the House. It need not be referred to the committee. Therefore, the Speaker has also committed a jurisdictional error by making a reference. This is contrary to procedure,” he claimed.
Also referring to serious political developments that took place in the State in 2017, the senior counsel said the committee of privileges had issued show cause notices to the DMK MLAs only on August 28, 2017 for having displayed the gutkha sachets on July 19, 2017. He claimed that it was intended to prevent them from attending the Assembly session if there had been a vote of confidence due to defection of 18 AIADMK MLAs on August 22, 2017.
The submissions were made during the final hearing of writ petitions filed by 21 DMK MLAs, including Mr. Stalin, in 2017 challenging the show cause notices. However, the court was informed that two petitioners K.P.P. Samy and J. Anbazhagan had died even as these cases were pending for last three years and that there were no instructions from one more petitioner Ku.Ka. Selvam, who was recently suspended from primary membership of DMK.
Making it clear that his Bench intends to complete the hearing in the batch of cases by Friday, the Chief Justice directed the Registry to list them again on Thursday for hearing.
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