Gutkha row: Privilege notice against Stalin, 18 DMK MLAs set aside by Madras HC The court, however, said it was up to the Privileges Committee to reexamine the issue.

Gutkha row: Privilege notice against Stalin, 18 DMK MLAs set aside by Madras HC

The court, however, said it was up to the Privileges Committee to reexamine the issue.

A file photo of Stalin walking out of the Tamil Nadu assembly
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In a win for the DMK, the Madras High Court set aside the breach of privilege proceedings issued against the party for displaying gutkha packets in Tamil Nadu Assembly in 2017. The High Court also held that the breach of privilege notice issued against 19 legislators including DMK President and Leader of Opposition MK Stalin for displaying sachets of banned gutkha suffers ‘foundational errors’.

On July 19, 2017 DMK legislators brought packets of gurkha, a banned substance, into the Assembly to prove that it was still available in the markets. The state government had on May 23, 2017 banned the manufacture, storage, and sale of gutkha and pan masala. Following DMK’s actions in the Assembly, Speaker P Dhanapal said it was a breach of privilege to bring the banned substance into the Legislature and referred the matter to the Privileges Committee. The Privileges Committee on August 28, 2017 issued a show cause notice to 21 DMK MLAs.

The MLAs moved the Madras High Court against the notice. Two MLAs J Anbazhagan and KPP Samy have passed away during the course of proceedings. The Madras High Court, which had recommenced hearing in the case recently, reserved orders on August 14 following three days of lengthy hearings.

The First Bench of Chief Justice AP Sahi and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy on Tuesday found foundational errors in the notice and set aside the breach of privilege motion against the MLAs. “The issuance of the impugned notice or breach of privilege dated 28.8.2017 based on the incident dated 19.07.2017, suffers from a foundational error of assuming the conduct of the petitioners to be prohibited by the notification dated 23.5.2017, and we hold accordingly. The petitioners cannot be proceeded against on the strength of the impugned notices dated 28.8.2018 by treating their conduct on 19.7.2017 of displaying gutkha sachets and photographs as being violative of any prohibitory law particularly the notification dated 23.5.2017,” stated the High Court.

The Bench, however, observed that its order was only confined to the May 2017 notification regarding the banning of gutkha and the conduct of the petitioners inside the House. “We leave it open to the Committee of Privileges if it so chooses, to deliberate upon the issue any further in case it still is of the opinion that any breach has been committed of the privileges of the House by the petitioners and in that even, the petitioners will be at liberty to raise all such objections that have been raised before us, or even otherwise available in law,” reads the court order.


Speaking to the media, DMK lawyer R Shanmughasundaram, said, “Tamil Nadu government banned gutkha but the banned product was easily available in shops. The DMK brought this issue to the attention of the government. They showed the proof with gutkha sachets and the pictures showing the availability of the product in shops. Following this, the government raised the privilege notice.”

“However, the government has not banned people from having it in their hands (possession) or use. The government has only banned the manufacturing and selling of gutkha. So, the DMK countered this in the HC. The government should ban use of gutkha like other states,” the advocate said.

Following the verdict, the AIADMK is mulling resending the issue to the Privileges Committee. AIADMK spokesperson Vaigai Selvan said, “The High Court has allowed us to send the issue to the Privilege Committee. The DMK is saying they are a traditional party but they did something that brought insult to the Assembly. They should have got permission to bring gutkha into the Assembly before bringing it to the Assembly. The Speaker issued proceedings because the DMK failed to get permission.”

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