The Election Commission (EC) told the Supreme Court on Thursday that it would defer the upcoming bypolls to 15 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka till the apex court finally decides the pleas filed by 17 disqualified MLAs of the state challenging their disqualification.
The poll panel had last week announced bypolls to 15 Assembly seats in Karnataka and had said that voting would be held on October 21 and counting of votes on October 24.
The EC submitted this after a bench headed by Justice N V Ramana said it would be "better" if the pleas filed by these disqualified MLAs were decided finally as virtually two-third arguments in the matter were already over.
"Then I will ask the Election Commission to defer it (bypolls in Karnataka) for sometime," senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the EC, told the bench.
When the bench, also comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari, asked Dwivedi whether his statement should be recorded in the court's order, the senior counsel said, "We (EC) will do it. There is no need to record this statement."
While expressing its inclination to finally decide the matter, the bench said, "Virtually almost two-third arguments are over. Lets hear it out completely and finish this matter. This is what we feel would be better."
Senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for some of these disqualified MLAs, supported Dwivedi's submissions and said the bypolls should be deferred as of now since the EC has six months time to conduct by-elections.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing senior Congress leaders Siddaramaiah and Dinesh Gundu Rao, told the bench that he has no objection if the by-elections are deferred and the matter is decided finally.
The bench asked both the parties to complete the pleadings in the matter till October 15 and posted it for hearing on October 22.
These 17 disqualified MLAs have challenged the decision of former assembly Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar to disqualify them.
Some of them have alleged in their pleas that the decision taken by Kumar before resigning as speaker was "illegal, arbitrary and mala fide exercise of power" under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution.
They have also questioned Kumar's decision to reject their resignations by holding that those were not voluntary and genuine.
During the day-long arguments on Thursday, Dwivedi said if the bypolls would be stayed by the apex court then the constituency would remain vacant and unrepresented.
He said incase the top court comes to a conclusion that disqualification of these MLAs should be stayed, then it means there would be no vacancy and no by-elections.
Sibal told the bench that the speaker, being a constitutional authority, was entitled to hold an inquiry on the resignations tendered by 15 of these disqualified MLAs as they had "hobnobbed" with the BJP to topple the then Congress-JD (S) coalition government, which was headed by then chief minister H D Kumaraswamy.
He claimed that some of the MLAs had gone to Mumbai on a chartered planed owned by a private company associated with BJP Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
"There seems to be a collective reason to resign," he said, adding that the speaker has to see whether resignations are voluntary and genuine or not.
Sibal questioned the maintainability of the pleas filed in the apex court by these disqualified MLAs under Article 32 of the Constitution and said that the order of the speaker could be challenged under Article 226 only before the high court.
"Such serious constitutional issue has not arisen before the court," he said, adding that the matter would have an enormous impact on the polity of the country.
He said merely because resignation has been tendered does not mean that the speaker would accept it as it is subject to his satisfaction.
He said that interim relief sought by the petitioners to defer or stay the bypolls should not be entertained as this is not a matter where any interim order should be passed at this stage.
Sibal argued that none of the facts recorded in the speaker's order disqualifying them have been denied by the petitioners.
"It is beyond any doubt that they hobnobbed with the BJP," he said while referring to the fact that most of the MLAs had gone to Mumbai, stayed there in a hotel and jointly addressed the media when the assembly session was going on.
Referring to the fact that some of these MLAs had also approached the governor of Karnataka before even meeting the speaker, he said, "What governor has to do with resignation in the house."
Sibal referred to an earlier apex court verdict and said a member of a house has to attend the session when a whip is issued for either financial bill, confidence or no-confidence motion as it relates to the life of the government.
He said that disqualification would apply till the expiry of the term of the house.
"To allow them to contest by-election waives everything they have done," he said.
The office of the Karnataka Assembly speaker had on Wednesday told the apex court that the right to resignation by a lawmaker is a "democratic right" and it is high time that the judiciary lay down guidelines for speakers.
The then speaker disqualified these MLAs and it eventually led to a fall of the Congress-JD(S) government headed by then chief minister Kumaraswamy.
Kumaraswamy resigned as a chief minister after losing a trust vote, which paved the way for the BJP-led government in the state under B S Yediyurappa.