Bengaluru: Two editors, who had been handed a one-year-jail term by the Karnataka Legislature, filed a writ against the order in the Karnataka High Court. The High Court is likely to take up the hearing on Monday.
The Assembly, during its ongoing winter session, re-confirmed the one-year-jail term and Rs 10,000 fine for writing articles that "breached the privilege of MLAs". The order, which took many by surprise, was first given on June 21, 2017, by the Speaker.
The Privileges Committee of the Assembly, headed at the time by MLA Kimmane Ratnakar, had given its report on the alleged defamatory articles which made “personal attacks” on MLA from Yelahanka, SR Vishwanath. During discussions, the Speaker ordered a year-long jail-term for Anil Raj, editor of the tabloid 'Yelahanka Voice.'
At the same time, attention was drawn to the other pending 'breach of privileges' case that the Speaker KB Koliwad himself had filed (before he took over the post). This related to an article that alleged corruption in the Speaker's constituency, written in the tabloid 'Hi Bangalore'.
The Speaker then clubbed the two and handed down a year-long jail-term to Ravi Belegere, editor of 'Hi Bangalore', as well.
Both orders have been re-confirmed now, with the Speaker rejecting review petitions filed with the Assembly Secretariat and giving a go-ahead for the arrest. Both editors are said to be on the run.
Advocate for the duo, S Shankarappa, said he has filed a petition to oppose the Assembly's order, which is set to be taken up on Monday.
"The question of privileges is not defined. In the case of Anil Raj, there are pending criminal and civil proceedings as defamation cases have been filed separately in these courts. When the matter is before a court of law, legislators don't have the power to even discuss the issue. In the case of Ravi Belegere, the offence does not even come under the purview of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly. Even if it amounts to breach of privilege, the principles of natural justice have been completely violated," Shankarappa told News18.
Interestingly, in the case of Ravi Belegere, even MLAs feel that the issue was suddenly clubbed with that of Anil Raj at the last minute. After orders of arrest in June, MLA Kimmane Ratnakar had reportedly written to the Speaker, to put on hold the decision as there was considerable outrage even within the ruling Congress.
Speaker Koliwad, however, had remained firm and said that if there were a question of reconsideration that would have to be discussed afresh in the House, it wouldn't be a decision of just the Speaker.
Shankarappa pointed out the conflict in Belegere’s case as Koliwad was the complainant and the head of the Privileges Committee that decided the case and issued the quantum of punishment.
“This is completely against the principles of justice. In fact, there are no guidelines on what should be the quantum of punishment. Belegere was not given a fair hearing. It is the first time in Karnataka that such a conviction has come from the Assembly. It is ultra vires (beyond the powers of the Assembly). In a similar case in Tamil Nadu, the court had even imposed a fine on the Speaker a few years back," said Shankarappa.