The Gauhati High Court on Tuesday put on hold an Assam assembly notification that derecognised Congress MLA Debabrata Saikia as the Leader of Opposition (LOP), saying it was "unsustainable under law."
The Assam assembly had through a notification derecognised Mr Saikia as the Congress's number dropped below one-sixth of the total assembly seats.
The Congress, which had 24 legislators in the 126-strong assembly, now have only 20 MLAs as two of its legislators - Ajanta Neog (MLA from Golaghat) and Rajdeep Gowala (MLA from Lakhipur) - recently joined the BJP and two others - Tarun Gogoi and Pranab Gogoi - died.
Though the Congress is only one seat short of the one-sixth mark (21), it is still the largest opposition party in the assembly, argued advocate Satyen Sarma, who appeared for Mr Saikia.
"An MLA holding the position of Leader of the Opposition needs to fulfill two requirements under Rule 2(1)(p) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Assam Legislative Assembly and Section 2 of The Salary and Allowances of the Leader of the Opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly Act, 1978. Firstly, one has to be the leader of the largest recognized party in the opposition and secondly, the MLA concerned has to be recognized as the leader of the largest recognized opposition party by the Speaker. Saikia fulfilled both of these requirements," Mr Sarma said.
The court also issued notices to the secretary and principal secretary of the Assam Legislative Assembly, along with the Assam chief secretary.
Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua noted that the issue of Congress MLAs not forming one-sixth of the total members of the House is unrelated to the recognition of Mr Saikia as LOP.
"In such a scenario, the Hon'ble Court was of the preliminary view that the notification under challenge was unsustainable under the law and the facts of the case. Therefore, in view of Mr Sarma having made out a prima facie case in favour of Mr Saikia, and considering the balance of convenience and irreparable injury which may be otherwise caused to Mr Saikia, the honourable court was pleased to stay the operation of the notification," the order stated.