The Supreme Court Wednesday refused to accept the proposal for producing 16 rebel MLAs of the Madhya Pradesh Congress in judges' chamber, and observed that they may or may not go to the Assembly but they cannot be held captive.
A bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta said it is not going to come in the way of the legislature to decide who enjoys the trust but it has to ensure that there is a free exercise of choice which these 16 MLAs can make.
The bench declined the offer of the rebel Congress MLAs saying it would not be appropriate and also refused to send its Registrar General to meet them. It then deferred the hearing for Thursday at 10.30 am.
"As a constitutional court, we have to discharge our duties," said the bench, adding, as of now it knows that the 16 rebel MLAs in Madhya Pradesh tilt the balance one way or the other.
The court asked lawyers to assist it on modalities for ensuring free access to the Assembly and choice. The bench was hearing cross petitions filed by former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Congress on the ongoing political crisis in the state after 22 rebel MLAs of the ruling combine purportedly offered to resign.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Chouhan, offered to produce all the 16 rebel MLAs in the judges' chamber, which the court denied. He also said that as an alternative, Registrar General of Karnataka High Court could go and meet the rebel MLAs on Thursday and video record everything.
Rohatgi questioned maintainability of the Congress plea and said how can a political party ask for access to rebel MLAs in their petition. The problem is Congress wants the rebel MLAs to go to Bhopal so that they can be lured and it can do horse trading, said Rohatgi.
The rebel MLAs told the bench that they were ready to face consequences as per the Constitution and expressed their unwillingness to meet Congress leaders. "Speaker cannot sit on our resignations. Can he choose to accept some resignations and not others because political game is going on?" asked the MLAs.
Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the MLAs, said their right to resign was constitutional and asked what the corresponding duty of the Speaker was for accepting resignations.
Singh said all these MLAs held a press conference declaring that the decisions they took was based on their own free will and the same has been sworn in their affidavits as well. "We aren't abducted and are producing this evidence in a CD to the court. We don't want to meet the Congress leaders, there is no principle of law to compel us," the MLAs told the bench.
Earlier in the day, the Madhya Pradesh Congress Party sought trust vote in the state assembly to be deferred till by-polls for the vacant seats are concluded, saying "heavens are not going to fall" if its government led by Kamal Nath is allowed to remain in office till then.
The contention was opposed by Rohatgi saying, after the resignations of 22 Congress MLAs, out of which six resignations have been accepted, the state government should not be allowed to continue even for a day.
The Madhya Pradesh Congress Legislature party (MPCLP) had Tuesday moved the Supreme Court seeking direction to the Centre and the BJP-led Karnataka government to grant it access to communicate with its rebel MLAs allegedly kept at Bengaluru.
The court had on Tuesday asked the Kamal Nath government in the state earlier in the day to respond by Wednesday to a plea by senior BJP leader Chouhan seeking immediate floor test in the Assembly.
The plea filed by Chouhan and nine BJP lawmakers was moved in the top court just after the Speaker cited coronavirus concerns and adjourned the House till March 26 without taking the floor test apparently defying the directions of Governor Lalji Tandon.
On Saturday night, Tandon wrote to Nath asking him to seek a trust vote in the Assembly soon after the Governor's address on Monday, saying his government was in minority.
After the Speaker accepted the resignation of six Congress MLAs on Saturday, the party now has 108 legislators. These include 16 rebel legislators who have also put in their papers but their resignations are yet to be accepted. The BJP has 107 seats in the House, which now has an effective strength of 222, with the majority mark being 112.