In the context of Maharashtra crisis, references have been made to the landmark judgment in ‘Kihoto Hollohan vs Zachillhu And Others’ (1992), in which the Supreme Court upheld the sweeping discretion available to the Speaker in deciding cases of disqualification of MLAs.
What is the ‘Kihoto Hollohan’ case?
- The law covering the disqualification of lawmakers and the powers of the Speaker in deciding such matters became part of the statute book in 1985 when the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution, commonly known as the ‘anti-defection law’, was adopted.
- A constitutional challenge to the Tenth Schedule was mounted, which was settled by the apex court in ‘Kihoto Hollohan’.
- The principal question before the Supreme Court in the case was whether the powerful role given to the Speaker violated the doctrine of basic structure — the judicial principle that certain basic features of the Constitution cannot be altered by amendments by Parliament.
- The Supreme Court laid down the doctrine of basic principle in its landmark judgment in ‘Kesavananda Bharati vs State Of Kerala’ (1973).
What did the Supreme Court rule in ‘Kihoto Hollohan’?
- The petitioners in ‘Kihoto Hollohan’ argued whether it was fair that the Speaker should have such broad powers, given that there is always a reasonable likelihood of bias.
- The majority judgment authored by Justices M N Venkatachaliah and K Jayachandra Reddy answered this question in the affirmative: “The Speakers/Chairmen hold a pivotal position in the scheme of Parliamentary democracy and are guardians of the rights and privileges of the House. They are expected to and do take far reaching decisions in the Parliamentary democracy. Vestiture of power to adjudicate questions under the Tenth Schedule in them should not be considered exceptionable.”
- They added that the Schedule’s provisions were “salutary and intended to strengthen the fabric of Indian Parliamentary democracy by curbing unprincipled and unethical political defections.”
- Therefore, the Court said that “judicial review cannot be available at a stage prior to the making of a decision by the Speaker/Chairman”. Nor would interference be permissible at an interlocutory stage of the proceedings said the Supreme Court.
- The only exception for any interlocutory interference can be cases of interlocutory disqualifications or suspensions which may have grave, immediate and irreversible repercussions and consequence.