A writ appeal has been preferred before a Division Bench of the Madras High Court challenging a single judge’s February 26 verdict that Members of Parliament as well as Members of Legislative Assemblies are liable to refund salaries and other emoluments, along with penalty, if a court of law declares their election to be illegal, null and void either before or after the completion of their tenure.
When the appeal filed by former Congress MLA P. Veldurai was listed for admission before Justices T.S. Sivagnanam and V. Bhavani Subbaroyan on Monday, the judges asked senior counsel AR.L. Sundaresan as to whether the appellant would be willing to pay at least 50% of the proposed recovery of ₹21.58 lakh, to be made by the Assembly Secretariat, as a pre-condition to grant interim orders in the case.
‘Law does not permit’
However, the senior counsel contended that law does not permit recovery of salary paid to an MLA when it was not in dispute that he had served the people during the entire period of fiver years between 2006 and 2011 and had attended the Assembly session for 201 days. He claimed that the single judge had ventured into uncharted territory and ruled that salary paid to elected members could also be recovered.
Stating that the appellant was actually a two-time MLA, who had won from Cheranmahadevi constituency once in 1996 and again in 2006, the counsel said the Assembly Secretariat had even stopped paying him pension, though the High Court as well as the Supreme Court had declared only his 2006 election as illegal, null and void on an election petition preferred by his rival candidate P.H. Paul Manoj Pandian of AIADMK.
After hearing the preliminary arguments advanced by the appellant’s counsel, the judges adjourned further hearing to Wednesday at the request of Government Pleader (in-charge) Jayaprakash Narayanan who sought time for the appearance of Additional Advocate General S.R. Rajagopal.
Number of questions
During the course of hearing on Monday, the judges wanted to know the number of questions the appellant asked in the Assembly during his tenure. In his February 26 order, Justice V. Parthiban said when a person not qualified to contest in elections got elected, and subsequently by operation of law lost the status of having been an elected member right from the day when he assumed office, the attendant benefits he had availed during such tenure must necessarily be withdrawn for all practical purposes.
Striking a difference between governments servants whose salaries could not be recovered on account of dismissal or termination of service and politicians who run for public offices not to make a living but to serve the people at large, the judge said it would behove well if the latter voluntarily refunded the public money once their elections get nullified.
“By no stretch of imagination the member of a House is an employee. If at all, they can claim only to be employees of the people. In a case, where the member is disqualified and his candidature itself goes, all the benefits he had by such election are not due to him at all… The emoluments received by him as such member are not legitimate sums in his hands.
“It was not salary paid for any services rendered… It is a recognition by ‘We the People’ to keep a member of the House compensated for sparing his time for public service… The member himself should be graceful and willing to refund the sums even without the State seeking a refund. That will add to the wisdom and status of those fighting for public offices,” the judge had added.