The Supreme Court on Wednesday (July 28) upheld the judgment of the Kerala High Court while dismissing the Kerala government plea to withdraw criminal cases against six CPI(M) leaders for allegedly resorting to vandalism during an assembly session in 2015.
A bench of justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah said the act of the six leaders was unconstitutional and the court cannot give them immunity under Article 194.
“Privileges and immunity are not a gateway to claim exemption from criminal law and that would be a betrayal to the citizens. The entire withdrawal application was filed based on a misconception of Article 194,” Live Law quoted Justice Chandrachud, who read out the judgment, as saying.
In 2015, legislators of the Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) including the six accused, had created a ruckus in the assembly in their bid to prevent the then finance minister KM Mani from presenting the budget. In the session that was aired live, legislators were seen disconnecting mikes, hurling chairs and vandalising furniture in the house. While property worth ₹2.20 lakh was destroyed in the ruckus, two legislators were injured in the incident.
In 2016, a local court rejected the Kerala government’s plea to withdraw the cases against the accused MLAs. In March this year, the Kerala High Court upheld the lower court’s verdict, dismissing the government plea.
Applauding the trial court’s verdict, the Supreme Court said while lawmakers have the privileges that are essential to exercise public functions, “vandalism and destruction inside the House” are not among them.
“There is no merit in Kerala government’s appeal and the appeal stands dismissed,” it said.
In a reply to the government’s argument that the accused had exercised their constitutional rights by voicing their ire against the then government, the Supreme Court said the act of vandalism doesn’t come under freedom of speech.
“Committing destruction of property cannot be equated to freedom of speech in the House. The argument that the acts were done in protest is unsatisfactory. Criminal law must take its normal course,” the top court said.
The bench added that dismissing the cases against the accused would only “amount to interference with normal course of justice for illegitimate reasons.”
The six accused are V Sivankutty, KT Jaleel – members of the current assembly – EP Jayarajan, CK Sadasivan, Kunahmed Master and K Ajith. The verdict is crucial for Sivankutty, the current education minister, who will now be expected to resign from his post.