'Vandalism Not Equal To Freedom Of Speech': Kerala Minister To Face Trial

V Sivankutty, KT Jaleel and four ex-MLAs were in the opposition in 2015, when they broke furniture and microphones as then Finance Minister tried to present the budget

The Supreme Court came down heavily on the CPM leaders (Representational)

New Delhi:

Members of Kerala's ruling CPM - including V Sivankutty, the Education and Labour Minister, and KT Jaleel, the former Higher Education Minister - will face trial in a case relating to damage of furniture during protests in the state Assembly in 2015, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.

The court came down strongly on the political leaders, underlining that "privilege and immunity of legislators is not a gate to claim exemption from criminal law", and that legislators claiming such privilege amounted to a betrayal of the trust of Indian voters who elected them to office.

"MPs and MLAs have to subscribe (and) bear true faith to the Constitution of India... Committing acts of destroying public property cannot be equated to freedom of speech. Legislators' privilege and immunity is not a gate to claim exemption from criminal law," a two-judge bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah said as it delivered the verdict.

"There is no merit in the Kerala government's appeals," the court added.

The verdict was in response to a Kerala government plea to withdraw cases against its leaders.

Senior lawyer and former Solicitor General Ranjeet Kumar, appearing for the state, argued that legislators from both sides had protested during the incident.

"Members of the ruling party were equally at fault. It was a fight between two parties," he said.

To this, Justice Chandrachud asked Kumar if it was in the interest of justice to throw things and damage furniture and equipment inside "the sanctum sanctorum of a democratic set-up".

The top court was unconvinced and slammed the legislators' behaviour, commenting that they should be held accountable for the unruly and violent acts in the House.

"What message are you sending to the public whom you represent? If they are not held accountable for their unruly and violent acts, there will be no deterrence to this kind of behaviour," the court asked.

Predictably, Kerala BJP chief K Surendran, who was this month summoned by police for questioning in a case linked to the theft of alleged hawala money, attacked the ruling CPM after the court's verdict.

"Supreme Court has slammed Kerala government over Kerala Assembly case... shows how the Kerala government is functioning. State minister Sivankutty should resign and face trial, as there are serious charges are against him," Mr Surendran was quoted by ANI.

The Kerala government approached the Supreme Court after the High Court also declined to withdraw the cases.

Mr Sivankutty, Mr Jaleel and four ex-MLAs - they were all in the opposition at the time - broke furniture and microphones during horrific scenes in the Assembly. Besides flinging the Speaker's chair from the podium, computers on the desk of the presiding officer were also allegedly damaged.

This was as then Finance Minister KM Mani, who faced bribery charges, tried to present the budget.

The ex-MLAs in the case are EP Jayarajan, K Ajith, CK Sadasivan and K Kunjammed.

With input from ANI, PTI