Justice M. Sathyanarayanan, the third judge of the Madras High Court hearing the 18 AIADMK MLAs’ disqualification case following a split verdict delivered by a Division Bench on June 14, on Monday pointed out that the disqualified MLAs had not sought CCTV footage of cameras outside Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami’s office. The footage would have helped in proving their assertion of having met him on many occasions to ventilate their grievances before approaching the Governor on August 22, he said.

The judge stressed the importance of the CCTV footage on the first day of the arguments kick-started by senior counsel P.S. Raman representing six of the 18 disqualified MLAs. When he said the Speaker had failed to give them an opportunity to examine reporters of television channels to prove their claim of having exhausted the intra-party mechanism by approaching the Chief Minister, the judge asked: “Was there no CCTV coverage when you met the Chief Minister?”

To this, the senior counsel replied that “possibly, there was CCTV footage.” Immediately, the judge said: “That you have not asked for.” He went on to explain that seeking the CCTV footage would have helped them prove that they did enter into the CM’s chambers to discuss issues related to the party affairs whereas the footage from television cameras stationed outside the Secretariat might not help in proving their assertion of having actually met the Chief Minister.

Mr. Raman said the 18 MLAs had, in fact, met the Chief Minister even inside Assembly Speaker P. Dhanapal’s chamber to express their displeasure over the working of the government. “We could not summon the Speaker to prove our assertion because he was the adjudicator (of the proceedings initiated under the anti-defection law). So, the only person we could cross-examine was the Chief Minister but the Speaker turned down our request to summon him,” he added.

When the counsel continued to assert that the disqualified MLAs’ intention was only to get Mr. Palaniswami replaced as Chief Minister with any other MLA in their party and not to topple the government, the judge asked whether they would have accepted O. Panneerselvam as the Chief Minister? Responding to it, the senior counsel, on instructions from the MLAs’ counsel on record N. Raja Senthoor Pandian, made it clear that the MLAs were against both Mr. Palaniswami and Mr. Panneerselvam.

“Of course, we had given representation to the Governor expressing lack of faith on the Chief Minister. That does not amount to voluntarily giving up membership of our party. If they thought that our act was anti-party, they must have expelled us from the party. They would not do it because, if they do it, we will continue to be MLAs,” Mr. Raman argued.

Contending that the AIADMK as an entity did not exist at all between August 24 and September 18 when the disqualification proceedings were conducted, the senior counsel said the Election Commission had frozen the ‘two leaves’ symbol of the party during the relevant period due to a factional dispute in the party. Then, the judge wanted to know whether “the symbol and the party were separable or inseparable?”

The senior counsel replied, “They are inseparable. That is why the Election Commission did not stop with freezing the symbol; it went on to direct both the factions to be identified by different names.” He said, even the Chief Minister, in his capacity as leader of the AIADMK legislature party, had forwarded his comments on the disqualification proceedings to the Speaker on August 30 on a letter head of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Amma, Puratchi Thalaivi Amma.

‘Divine knowledge’

Mr. Raman also took exception to the Speaker having referred to a reported statement made by Thangatamilselvan, one of the 18 disqualified MLAs, that all the 18 were invited over phone to attend a legislature party meeting on September 5 but they had decided to boycott it. “I don’t know where does the Speaker get it from? It is not part of the records. Is it from some divine knowledge?” the counsel asked. Answering it, senior counsel C. Aryama Sundaram, representing the Speaker, rose from his seat to say: “Speakers also read newspapers.” In such a scenario, Section 81 of the Evidence Act of 1872 (which provides for accepting newspaper reports as evidence in certain cases) would come into play, the judge pointed out. On Mr. Raman’s contention that the Speaker ought not to have used the statement of the 19th MLA S.T.K. Jakkaiyyan, who had turned a volte face, against 18 others, Mr. Justice Sathyanarayanan pointed out that the Speaker had clearly detached the case of the 18 MLAs from that of Mr. Jakkaiyyan. “Then, what was the necessity to refer to it in this (disqualification) order. It should not have figured in this order at all,” the senior counsel replied.

After arguing the case for the entire day, Mr. Raman said that he would need another hour or so on Tuesday after which senior counsel Mohan Parasaran would present his arguments on behalf of the rest of the 12 disqualified MLAs. Only thereafter, Mr. Sundaram and senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan, representing Mr. Palaniswami, would commence their counter arguments.

The only person we could cross-examine was the Chief Minister but the Speaker turned down our request to summon him

P.S. RamanSenior counsel

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