Published: June 14, 2018 12:05:24 am
The Delhi High Court today extended its interim order asking the Legislative Assembly not to take any “coercive steps” against three senior bureaucrats summoned by the Speaker to appear before it for allegedly failing to answer certain questions of legislators.
Justice C Hari Shankar reserved the order on the plea by the bureaucrats, who on June 7 were asked by Speaker Ram Niwas Goel to be present in the visitor’s gallery of the House on June 11, and said no action be taken against them till the court pronounces its order.
The court, which heard the arguments for over three hours advanced by the counsel for the bureaucrats, Delhi government, Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor, said its interim order of June 11 would continue till pronouncement of the judgment.
It had on June 11 said that no “precipitative action” be taken against the three bureaucrats. The court was hearing the pleas against the Speaker’s June 7 letter to education secretary Sandeep Kumar, services secretary Nagendra Kumar and revenue secretary Manisha Saxena.
Goel’s letter of June 7 had warned the bureaucrats of strict action “as per rules” if they did not provide proper answers to three written questions asked by the ruling party legislators.
During the hearing, senior advocate Sanjay Jain and advocate Raj Shekhar Rao, appearing for the bureaucrats, said the allegedly unanswered questions pertained to subjects of services and land, which along with law and order, are issues on which the assembly cannot legislate.
He said the bureaucrats have already given written reply that the questions pertain to reserved subject and in such a situation, queries raised by legislators about these subjects ought not to have been allowed by the Speaker.
“It is an ego battle, you want secretaries to come and stand there in the Assembly. We are bureaucrats and we have put in so many years in our jobs. We have not come here to face humiliation and such mental pressure was being put on us,” the senior counsel argued.
He further said, “You have put an extra day of Assembly session at the cost of public exchequer’s money just to hear what we have already said in writing. For what you want our appearance. If you have a political battle, fight it politically with the Prime Minister or the Home Minister. Why are we being used as pawn. Why I am being used as a scapegoat.”
Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, appearing for the L-G, contended that the Speaker has no such power to summon a bureaucrat in the visitor’s gallery under the law.
“Where is the power with the speaker to summon a bureaucrat in the visitor’s gallery under the law. Here, refusal to answer does not amount to breach of principle as it contains some cause,” he said.
Senior advocate Sudhir Nandrajog, representing the Speaker’s office, said if an information is sought in the House and it is not given, it certainly amounts to breach of principle and defying House order amounts to contemptuous per se.
“The decision taken by the Speaker to allow a question cannot be questioned in the court of law,” he added.
Delhi government standing counsel Rahul Mehra said if a question is of public interest, it must be answered and in a democracy, political parties or government will come and go, it is officers who will stay.
He further said the House was not in session and there was no urgency in the matter and no prejudice was caused to the bureaucrats.
The three-day session, which started on June 6, was scheduled to conclude on June 8. However, it was extended by one working day, i.e. till June 11.
Goel had on June 6 directed the bureaucrats to be present during assembly proceedings the next day after their departments allegedly did not supply answers to written questions of legislators.
Angry with the development, the speaker had termed as “undeclared emergency” the situation where government officers were not providing answers asked by MLAs and blamed Lt Governor Anil Baijal for it.