The Madras High Court on Thursday granted an interim stay on the fresh show cause notices issued by the Tamil Nadu Assembly Secretary to DMK president M K Stalin and 17 other MLAs and consequent proceedings in connection with displaying banned 'gutkha' pouches inside the House in 2017. Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana, passing orders on a batch of writ petitions, said the petitioners — Stalin and others- have made out a prima facie case and posted the matter for September 28 after recording Advocate General's undertaking to file a counter affidavit.
The fresh notices were issued on September 7, seeking their explanations after the high court had last month set aside the breach of privilege notices against the DMK MLAs saying it suffered a "foundational error" in assuming their action of displaying Gutkha to be prohibited in law. On July 19, 2017, DMK members, led by Stalin, had displayed sachets of 'gutkha' a banned product, which is a mixture of chewing tobacco and betel nut, in the House and Speaker P Dhanapal had referred it to the Privileges Committee. The Opposition MLAs, held the gutkha packs while seeking to raise an issue of the 'availability,' of the banned products.
The Assembly Secretary issued the latest notices on grounds that the Committee of Privileges had discussed further steps on the petitioners' conduct in displaying gutkha packets without Speaker's permission, the disturbance caused, setting a bad precedent and bringing disrepute to the proceedings. Senior counsels for the petitioners, R Shanmugasundaram and N R Elango, submitted that the present notices were issued on the very same basis and they deserved to be set aside and sought an interim stay.
Advocate General Vijay Narayan submitted it was not only displaying of gutkha sachets, but bringing such banned products without the permission of the Speaker and therefore, the Privileges Committee is of the opinion that petitioners have committed breach of privilege. Since these were only show cause notices, it was open to the petitioners to raise the objections they made in the writ petitions before the Privileges Committee, the AG said.
After perusing the materials on record, the Judge said the Division Bench had already held that the conduct of displaying gutkha sachets will not be violative of any prohibitory law. This judgment was not challenged by the respondents and instead, they issued fresh show cause notices based on the liberty granted by the court.
"It is argued that once the division bench has held that displaying of Gutkha sachets in the assembly will not be breach of privilege," then the other grounds like causing disturbance to the assembly proceedings will not stand, the court noted. The impugned notices were also issued on the same ground except that "permission" of the Speaker was not obtained before bringing in the banned sachets.
The question of permission of the Speaker cannot be decided independently and the same can be decided only in the contest of breach of privilege. "As the declaration and final determination of the rights are already concluded by this court, it amounts to reopening of the issue.
"However, the same requires factual adjudication and till such conclusion is arrived at, the proceedings against the petitioners pursuant to the impugned show cause notices cannot be allowed to go on," Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana held adding "there shall be an order of interim stay, as prayed for, until further orders."