The Pinarayi Vijayan government in Kerala has moved the apex court seeking permission to withdraw cases against prominent CPM leaders for vandalism of state assembly in 2015. The government claims it is their parliamentary privilege and not vandalism.
The case pertains to the vandalism of the Kerala Legislative Assembly by CPM members, who created a ruckus in the House and caused damages to the public property when the budget session was underway in 2015. The Congress-led UDF was in power in Kerala at that time, with Oommen Chandy as the CM.
In its defence, the Kerala government in the Supreme Court argued that the budget session of the legislative assembly in 2015 was carried out in a ‘charged atmosphere’ and the allegations of nepotism were levelled against the finance minister and it was during the protests by opposition members that the alleged chaos ensued.
In its plea to the Supreme Court, the Kerala government says: “At best, their action will only amount to a breach of privilege or code of conduct for which only the Speaker is empowered to take action. The Public Prosecutor performs an executive function while submitting an application under Section 321 and the role of the court is only supervisory.”
The Pinarayi Vijayan government avers in the Supreme Court that though members of the “ruling party were equally at fault”, they have certain privileges on account of being MLA’s, in terms of Articles 105(3) and 194(3) of the Constitution of India.
On April 28 this year, the Kerala government filed a plea in the top court, seeking a stay on High Court order dated March 12, 2021, in which it had rejected the plea against an order of dismissal by the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court at Thiruvananthapuram. The state government requested permission from the apex court to withdraw prosecution from the accused ministers.
High Court had earlier observed that vandalism of public property cannot be shielded by citing parliamentary privilege
The High Court in its order dated March 12, 2021, noted that the question is whether the alleged act of vandalism committed by the accused, which, if proven, would be offences punishable under the Indian Penal Code, are to be considered as part of the proceedings of the House, for the purpose of their protection.
The High Court observed: “The answer can only be in the negative since privileges and immunities are provided to ensure smooth functioning of the House by guaranteeing absolute freedom to the members to speak and participate in its deliberations. Here the allegation is of the functioning of the Assembly Session having been disrupted by the members by trespassing into the Speakers Dias and committing mischief. The aforementioned acts, if proven to be true, can, by no stretch of the imagination, be deemed to be acts done in furtherance of the free functioning of the house.”
However, the Kerala Government contended that the alleged acts were carried out by the accused concerning their function as members of the House, and therefore, no criminal proceedings can be initiated against them.
Earlier, the Chief Judicial Magistrate court had turned down the Government’s plea to withdraw the case pertaining to the vandalism caused in the state assembly, which resulted in disruption during the annual budget speech.
The court had then noted that the case of vandalising and destroying public properties cannot be withdrawn and excoriated the government for seeking the withdrawal of cases against their leaders.
Vandalism in Kerala state legislative assembly
On March 13, 2015, the legislative assembly Kerala witnessed unprecedented vandalism as members of the opposition, in their attempt to prevent scam-tainted Finance Minister K M Mani from presenting the Budget, trashed the Speaker’s dais and even flung out his official chair. However, despite the imbroglio, Mani managed to wrap up the presentation of his 13th Budget in six minutes after the Speaker permitted him to do so. The Opposition alleged that the Budget presentation was invalid as House procedures were not followed.
The Opposition MLAs also blocked the path of Speaker N Sakthan to prevent his entry into the dais. Around 20 Opposition MLAs, including senior leaders Thomas Isaac and C Divakaran, and 12 watch-and-ward staff were injured in the scuffle.
The protest demonstrations and the Secretariat blockade by the LDF took a violent turn when the protesters took to the streets and torched two government vehicles, including a police bus. One LDF supporter had died. Police had to resort to firing teargas shells and cane charge to control the LDF and Yuva Morcha activists. The Opposition had blocked all entry points to the House in the morning itself. Opposition leader V S Achuthanandan and his LDF colleagues were present well before the start of the session at 9 am.