Alagaapuram R. Mohanraj and Ors. v. Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and Anr.
The petitioners in the present writ petition are members of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly belonging to the DMDK party. On 19.2.2015, the petitioners allegedly resorted to unruly conduct while the session was in progress. The Speaker suspended nineteen MLAs for the remainder of the Session with immediate effect. It was referred to the Privileges Committee which after an inquiry, recorded a conclusion that the conduct of the six petitioners was in breach of the privileges of the House and, therefore, by a resolution recommended their removal for 10 days from the commencement of the next session of the Legislative Assembly and also that during the said period, the petitioners be not paid the salary and be given other benefits. Aggrieved by the said resolution the petitioners filed the present writ petition.
The petitioners contended that the impugned action is in violation of the their fundamental right of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution and their fundamental right to carry on an occupation guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (g). Also that the impugned action is violative of fundamental right of the petitioners under Article 21 of the Constitution insofar it deprives them of their salary and other facilities attached to their membership of the house(although for a limited period). It was further contended that the principles of natural justice were not adhered to and award of the punishment is violative of Article 14.
The Supreme Court examined these issues and observed that from the scheme of the Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution, it becomes clear that the constitutional declaration of freedom of speech in the legislative bodies creates a constitutional right in favour of the members of such legislative bodies. Such a freedom had its origin in the privileges of the House of Commons. The dimensions and contours of such right are greatly different from the dimensions and contours of the fundamental right of speech and expression guaranteed to a citizen under Article 19(1)(a). No citizen has a right to enter the legislative body and exercise his freedom of speech unless he first gets elected to such a legislative body in accordance with law. No legislator would continue to enjoy the freedom of speech contemplated under Articles 105 and 194 after the cessation of the membership of the legislative body. The Supreme Court held that when a legislator is prevented from participating in the proceedings of the House during the currency of the membership by virtue of some proceedings taken against such a legislator, there would be a curtailment of the legislator’s constitutional right of free speech in the House of which such legislator is a member. But such curtailment is sanctioned by Constitution in view of the fact that such a right is made subject to other provisions of the Constitution, the rules and standing orders regulating the procedure of the legislative bodies. Hence though there is a curtailment of the petitioners’ right of free speech in the Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu to which they are entitled under Article 194 by virtue of the impugned order, the said order does not violate the fundamental rights of the petitioners guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a).
The Supreme Court observed that right to contest an election to the legislative bodies established by the Constitution is held not to be a fundamental right and hence the right to participate in the proceedings of the legislative bodies can not be a fundamental right falling under Article 19(1)(g). No citizen is entitled as of right either to become or continue for the whole lifetime as member of a legislative assembly. Any member of a legislative assembly holds office until such membership comes to an end by some process established by law. Any monetary benefit incidental to the holding of such Constitutional offices commencing from the office of the President of India is only to compensate for the time and energy expended by the holder of the office in the service of the nation. Hence a member of a legislative assembly cannot be treated as holding office for the purpose of eking out a livelihood. The economic underpinnings of an ‘occupation’ under Article 19(1)(g) and the transient and incidental nature of economic benefits flowing from the office of a legislator must inevitably lead to the conclusion that a member of the legislative assembly cannot be treated as pursuing an ‘occupation’ under Article 19(1)(g). Hence the impugned order was held not violative of their right under Article 19(1)(g). It was further held that salary and other benefits to which they are entitled to during their tenure are purely incidental to the membership and they don’t even create an independent and indefeasible constitutional right. Therefore, the deprivation of such benefits does not amount to deprivation of their fundamental right under Article 21.
The Court further held that failure to supply a copy of the video recording relied upon by the Privileges Committee or affording an opportunity to the petitioners to view the video recording had resulted in the violation of the principles of natural justice. Hence the impugned resolution was set aside and the salary and other benefits incidental to the membership of the assembly stood restored to the petitioners.