The Election Commission (EC) told the Supreme Court Monday that former Karnataka Speaker's order disqualifying 17 MLAs from the assembly cannot deprive them of their right to contest the upcoming by-polls for 15 constituencies in the state.
The EC sought from the top court, which agreed to examine the pleas of the MLAs seeking stay on disqualification and for contesting the by-elections, that the by-polls should not be stayed.
A bench of Justices NV Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari said it would hear the pleas on September 25.
"I have no say on the issue of disqualification. The gist of the matter is that the Speaker has disqualified them and vacancy is there. The election should not be stayed," EC's counsel told the bench.
"The Speaker's order cannot deprive them of the right to contest the elections," the EC said.
The top court issued notices to the speaker of Karnataka Assembly, Karnataka Congress and JD (S) leaders and the state government on the petitions.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the disqualified MLAs, told the bench that either the by-polls, for which nominations can be filed till September 30, should be stayed or these politicians should be allowed to contest the by-elections.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the other party, questioned the EC stand saying it was surprising.
"Why the Election Commission has come and said so, we are surprised," Mr Sibal said.
Mukul Rohatgi said that order of the then Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar disqualifying these 17 MLAs should be stayed as he had said that the resignations tendered by them might be voluntary, but "motivated".
He said Mr Kumar had given only three days to these MLAs to respond to the disqualification notices which was completely illegal as according to the Karnataka Assembly rules a minimum of 7-day notice period has to be given for disqualification.
"If someone does not wish to be an MLA, nobody can force him unless there is a gun on his head," Mr Rohatgi said, adding that they have been disqualified for the remaining tenure of the current Assembly which would end in 2023.
"We should be entitled to contest the election (by-polls)," he said, adding that the then Speaker had said in his order that these disqualified MLAs cannot even contest the by-polls during the tenure of this Assembly till 2023.
"The seven day period to file reply to the notice cannot be curtailed and the Speaker had given us only three days to respond. This is completely illegal what the Speaker has done in this case," he said.
While countering Mr Rohatgi's submissions, Mr Sibal said that facts referred to him are contrary to the records.
"I have to respond on this," Mr Sibal told the bench, adding that no interim orders should be passed at this stage.
To this, the bench said, "We are willing to hear this".
The bench, while posting the matter for hearing on September 25, asked Mr Rohatgi and Mr Sibal to confine their arguments on the point of interim relief sought by these disqualified MLAs.
The then Speaker had disqualified these MLAs which eventually led to the fall of the Congress-JD(S) coalition government headed by the then chief minister HD Kumaraswamy.
Mr Kumaraswamy resigned as the chief minister after losing a trust vote, which paved the way for the BJP-led government in the southern state under Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa.
The disqualified lawmakers have approached the top court, challenging Mr Kumar's decision to disqualify them.
Some of them have contended in their pleas that the decision taken by Mr Kumar before resigning as the Speaker was an entirely illegal, arbitrary and mala fide exercise of his power under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution.
They have also questioned Mr Kumar's decision to reject their resignations by holding that those were not voluntary and genuine.