September 7, 2017
The Madras High Court on Thursday directed the Assembly Speaker not to take any action against 21 DMK MLAs till September 14 against whom privilege notices were issued for bringing and displaying banned tobacco product gutka in the House.
When a batch of petitions filed by the DMK MLAs came up for hearing, Justice M. Duraiswamy restrained the Speaker from taking any action against them till September 14.
Last week, the Assembly Privileges Committee issued notices to 21 MLAs, including the Leader of Opposition and DMK Working President M.K. Stalin for bringing gutka products to the House on July 19.
When the pleas were taken up on Thursday, Advocate General Vijay Narayan gave an undertaking before court that he would advice the privilege committee not to pass any orders on the issue, till the maintainability of the pleas moved by the MLAs, seeking to quash the notice were decided by the court.
Arguing for the DMK MLAs, Kapil Sibal submitted that bringing gutka packets into the Assembly would not amount to breach of privilege.
“The notification issued by the Government on March 23 banning manufacture and sale of gutka does not say that possession of such product or even consumption is banned. While the fact being so, the argument of bring a banned produced inside the House would not be correct,” he said.
He said Article 194 of the Constitution provides freedom of speech to the members of the legislature inside the House. That right, unlike the fundamental right, was an absolute right, and cannot be subjected to contempt or defamation.
“The privilege panel is trying to indict the MLAs for exercising the absolute right conferred by the Constitution, that too without telling them which procedure of the House prohibits it,” Sibal said.
It may be recalled that during the debate in the Assembly on July 19 on illegal sale of gutka and the steps taken by the Government to prevent it, Stalin, displaying packets of banned gutka, accused the Government of not taking any steps to prevent its sale.
He said he was displaying the packets to show that it was easily available in the market and to counter the Government’s claim that it had launched a crackdown on illegal sale of gutka.
Objecting to this, Speaker P. Dhanapal termed it as a breach of privilege issue and referred the matter to the privileges committee, which had issued notices to them seeking a reply.