Kerala’s ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), which has been trying to end a criminal case filed against lawmakers accused of violence in the assembly in 2015, suffered another setback on Wednesday when a Thiruvananthapuram judge rejected a plea. The six lawmakers include Kerala’s education minister V Sivankutty.
Thiruvananthapuram’s chief judicial magistrate R Rekha on Wednesday told the accused to appear before her on November 22 when the court will frame charges against them to start the trial.
In their discharge request, the six legislators claimed that they only intended to disrupt the budget speech, and sought to pin the blame for the damaged assembly furniture on the security personnel tasked to bring the situation under control.
In 2015, the six were among those accused of creating ruckus in the assembly on March 13, breaking chairs, throwing microphones and standing on tables to prevent then finance minister KM Mani from presenting the budget.
Education minister V Sivankutty and Left Front legislator KT Jaleel are among the six legislators to face charges in this case. The other four, CK Sadasivan, EP Jayarajan, K Ajith and Kunjammadu Master, are former members of the legislative assembly (MLAs).
When the LDF government led by Pinarayi Vijayan came to power in the 2016 state elections, it started efforts to withdraw the case registered against the legislators. But the courts didn’t play along.
The group of six faced charges under sections 447 (criminal trespass) and 427 (causing mischief) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 3(1) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984 which is punishable with a maximum sentence of five years.
In 2019, the public prosecutor filed a formal request in the local court to close the case but the judge didn’t accept the request. The request, also rejected by the high court, eventually reached the Supreme Court earlier this year which described the state’s request as “incomprehensible”.
The top court said the prosecutor’s request was based on a “misconception that elected members of the legislature stand above the general application of criminal law”, and stressed that “acts of destruction of public property” are not covered under the privileges accorded to legislators in the assembly. “Consequently, acts of vandalism cannot be said to be manifestations of the freedom of speech and be termed as ‘proceedings’ of the assembly,” it added.
The opposition renewed its demand that Pinarayi Vijayan drops Sivankutty from his cabinet but the ruling party has refused to replace him, insisting that the minister was yet to be held guilty.