Himachal assembly Speaker disqualifies 6 Congress MLAs, ruling party regains a majority for now

Shimla: Himachal Pradesh Speaker Kuldeep Singh Pathania has disqualified six Congress MLAs on a petition filed by the ruling side.

The six MLAs — Sudhir Sharma, Rajinder Rana, I.D. Lakhanpal, Ravi Thakur, Chaitanya Sharma and Davinder Bhutto — were absent Tuesday during the vote on cut motion as well as Wednesday while passing the budget. Congress, in its petition argued that they violated the whip issued by the party and called for their disqualification under the Anti-Defection Law.

Speaking to the press Thursday, Pathania said, “The six MLAs, who were elected on a Congress ticket, attracted provisions of the anti-defection law against them. I declare that these six MLAs cease to be members of the Himachal Pradesh assembly with immediate effect.”

“I gave an exhaustive hearing to both parties. There was no need to give more time…,” he said, adding, “All six members were present in the Vidhan Sabha but absent when cut motion and budget were put to vote.”

However, senior advocate and BJP leader Satya Pal Jain — who represented the six MLAs — said they were not given adequate time to file a reply. Speaker had reserved the order Wednesday.

After Pathania Wednesday ‘expelled’ 15 BJP MLAs, including Leader of the Opposition Jai Ram Thakur, on a resolution moved by the ruling side, the way to pass the budget was automatically cleared.

The Congress had issued a whip to all its 40 MLAs to remain present and vote to pass the budget for FY24. The budget was passed without any difficulty in the absence of the Opposition, as the remaining 10 MLAs also walked out in solidarity with the 15 expelled MLAs. However, during the discussion and voting on the cut motions, six rebel Congress MLAs were absent Tuesday.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Harshwardhan Chauhan filed a disqualification petition before the speaker Wednesday, which was taken up by Pathania today. “A three-line whip was issued by the ruling party. When cut motions came up for voting, I asked every MLA to remain in their seat. The motion was defeated as the Congress had the majority, but six of its MLAs were not present,” he said.

“This comes under violation of the whip issued by a political party, which attracts anti-defection law. I heard both the parties and reserved the order,” Pathania had told ThePrint Wednesday.

The Congress’s petition against the MLAs did not refer to the cross-voting in Rajya Sabha election and the Speaker said he has not touched that issue.

When asked about not giving much time to MLAs to reply, he said, “As per SC judgments, If I am satisfied that parties have been intimated about the notice, I should hear both the parties. Why should I delay. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Pathania said the six MLAs were informed about this petition against them and a notice was served to them on WhatsApp. When asked whether this was acceptable, he said, “Yes, and event if it’s not, we have e-Vidhansabha. WhatsApp and such electronic medium are acceptable under the evidence act.”

“I wanted to decide this case swiftly because the the law was brought to discourage the ‘Aaya Ram, gaya Ram’ tendency,” said the Speaker, who acts as the head of the tribunal while hearing disqualification petition.

“I have given a view point that SC should look into Election Commission’s direction to show the vote to the candidate’s agent in Rajya Sabha. This is fight between two parties. You are defying the ethics of the party you belong to and voting for another party. This is unethical. SC should take cognizance of it,” he added.

Satya Pal Jain submitted before the speaker that notice was issued Wednesday morning. “I said that we have not received the copy of the petition and annexures. We should at least get seven days as per the anti-defection rule 7,” Jain told the press. He said that MLAs got the petition’s copy after the hearing was over.

Earlier, Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu had told the press after the budget was passed in the house, “We have brought a disqualification motion against these (six) MLAs. Speaker has to take the final call.”

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

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