Nainital: The Centre got a jolt on Tuesday as the Uttarkhand High Court ordered a floor test in the Assembly on 31 March, giving a new turn to the political developments two days after President's Rule was imposed in the state.
Justice UC Dhyani also allowed nine disqualified rebel MLAs of Congress to participate in the voting but their votes will be kept separate and will be subject to final outcome of the petition challenging their disqualification.
"The session of the Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly shall be convened for 31 March at 11 am. The only agenda, which would be taken up in the assembly on that date, would be the Vote of Confidence, as directed by the Governor earlier," Justice Dhyani said in his 25-page judgement.
It observed that the only change is in the date which is fixed by the court.
However, the court made no pronouncement on the status of the President's Rule that was imposed on Sunday on the ground of "breakdown of Constitutional machinery" in the state.
The court said it was giving a "non-invasive, non-prejudicial relief" in the writ petition filed by ousted Chief Minister Harish Rawat.
"To give the floor test a semblance of neutrality, and without prejudice to the rival contentions, all the MLAs shall be entitled to take part in the floor test, with, without or despite their disqualification, which shall be subject to adjudication by the court of competent jurisdiction on an appropriate occasion," it said.
The court also directed that the Assembly proceedings shall be totally peaceful and without disturbance. The Chief Secretary and DGP were instructed to ensure that all MLAs attend the assembly "free, safely and securely" without any hindrance.
The judge further directed that the result of confidence vote shall be kept by the Speaker in a sealed cover and submitted/intimated to the court at the earliest and in any case by the morning of April one. The court posted the matter for further hearing at 2 PM on that day.
"The votes of disqualified members shall be kept separate," the court said, observing that its order shall be treated as notice to the MLAs. The court registrar will be the Observer for the day's proceedings.
The Centre challenges
The Centre may challenge the verdict before the Division Bench of the High Court tomorrow. Congress also plans to approach the Division Bench relating to the part of the judgement that deals with the disqualified MLAs.
The votes of the disqualified MLAs will be taken into account subject to final outcome of the case, senior Supreme Court lawyer and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters after the second day of the hearing here.
Singhvi appeared for the sacked Chief Minister Harish Rawat who had challenged the imposition of President's Rule and demanded its immediate quashing.
Rawat welcomed the order, saying it was a "tremendous setback" for the Centre which was trying to bring "authoritarianism". But this order would deter them from trying to destablise non-BJP governments in states, he said.
Congress, which ruled the state for four years, claims the support of its own 27 MLAs plus six of PDF besides one dissident BJP MLA. Nine other Congress MLAs have turned rebels and joined hands with BJP which has 27 legislators.
Arguing on behalf of the Union Government in the court, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said nullifying presidential promulgation is impermissible.
He said there was enough ground for imposition of President's rule in the state in view of the failure of the constitutional machinery.
In Delhi, Congress leader Ambika Soni welcomed the High Court decision for floor test but said the party was considering legal opinion on approaching the Division Bench against allowing disqualified rebel MLAs to participate in the voting.
In earlier precedents, the Supreme Court had on two occasions ordered a composite floor test in Uttar Pradesh in 1998 and in Jharkhand in March 2005.
Rawat, whose government was sacked on Sunday on the grounds of "breakdown of Constitutional machinery", had moved the court yesterday, calling the Centre's decision as "arbitrary" and demanded its quashing.
Singhvi said the court accepted Congress position that despite the President's Rule, there is enough scope for judicial review to allow a floor test, which was sought by it.
He said Governor K K Paul too had directed holding of the floor test on March 28 and Rawat had also made the same demand twice.
"Now only the date has changed from 28 March to 31 March," Singhvi said.
He said mere allegations of horse-trading cannot justify the imposition of President's Rule and stop a floor test.
The Centre had imposed the President's Rule just a day ahead of the date (28 March) fixed for the floor test.
On the question of disqualification of 9 rebel Congress MLAs, Singhvi said the court did not set it aside and a final decision on it will come later.
He said both the sides would consider their future legal recourse.
Singhvi said for purpose of counting, the votes of the disqualified MLAs will be kept separate for "identification" and will be subjected to final outcome of the case. "Unless their disqualification is removed, their votes will not be counted as valid votes," the Congress lawyer said.