NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that LDF MLAs must face prosecution under Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Prevention of Damages to Public Property Act for damaging assembly property in Kerala while protesting against budget presentation in 2015.
The state assembly had witnessed unprecedented scenes on March 13, 2015 as LDF members, then in opposition, tried to prevent then finance minister K M Mani, who was facing allegations in the bar bribery scam, from presenting the state budget.
Besides flinging the speaker's chair from the podium, electronic equipment like computers, keyboards and mikes on the desk of the presiding officer were also allegedly damaged by the LDF members.
In a major judgment denting the image of Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government, the bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah said that the prosecution sought to withdraw cases against the MLAs for illegitimate reasons and it amounted to interference in the process of law.
The SC said the right to free speech, privileges and immunity accorded to MLAs and MPs do not mean they will enjoy immunity from criminal acts within the House. The immunity and privileges are granted to them for discharging their duties freely in the House.
The apex court said if criminal acts of MPs/MLAs within the House were condoned on the ground of privileges and immunities, then it would be akin to putting them at a pedestal that is different from the yardstick applicable to common citizens. "We cannot miss the woods for tree," it said.
The secretary of Kerala assembly had sent a complaint to police after Vaikom CPI MLA K Ajith threw a mike and broke furniture in the House on March 13, 2015, to protest presentation of budget by the then finance minister of the Oommen Chandy government.
The secretary quantified the cost of the damage at Rs 2.20 lakh. The police lodged an FIR under the Prevention of Destruction of Public Property Act. In 2018, the trial court rejected the Pinarayi Vijayan government’s plea to withdraw the case. On appeal, the Kerala HC upheld the trial court’s decision.
The top court had on July 5 said it has to take a “strict” view of unruly behaviour of lawmakers in Parliament and legislative assemblies as such incidents are "increasing now-a-days" and this sort of conduct cannot be condoned.
The case, which also involves V Sivankutty who is a minister in the state, was registered against a group of then LDF MLAs.
In its plea filed in the apex court against the March 12 order of the high court, the Kerala government has claimed that the high court had failed to appreciate that the alleged incident had occurred while the Assembly was in session and no crime could have been registered "without previous sanction" of the Speaker.
The state government had moved the high court against an order of the trial court which had dismissed an application filed by the public prosecutor seeking permission to withdraw from prosecution against the accused in the case.
The case was registered for the alleged offences under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 447 (criminal trespass), and under the provision of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.
( With agency inputs)