By Gyanant Singh
New Delhi: Amidst intense scrutiny on the questionable actions of the Uttarakhand speaker and the governor, the state's High Court may have rightly decided to start with a clean slate by reviving the membership of the suspended rebel Congress MLAs and calling for a fresh floor test to determine the house majority.
On Tuesday, the high court asked Congress leader Harish Rawat — whose government was dismissed when the Centre imposed President’s Rule in the state — to take the trust vote on Thursday.
Though questions are being raised over the decision, in my opinion, the court seems to be within its right to test the basis — that Rawat had lost the trust of the House — on which the President’s Rule was imposed.
As a rule, courts do not generally question the prudence of the decision taken by the President but whenever the President's rule is challenged, they have always put the material forming the basis for the decision under scrutiny.
To begin with a clean slate, the court went against the governor’s decision to not go for a floor test and against the speaker’s ruling to disqualify nine rebel MLAs of the Congress Party. Keeping aside charges and counter-charges of horse trading, the floor test has been recognized by the Supreme Court as the best way to check if the government still enjoys a majority.
Constitutional crisis in states in federal India often involve questionable actions on part of the speaker and the governor, people who have been entrusted with enough discretionary powers by the Constitution.
The crisis in Uttarakhand may not be an exception and the High Court appears to have taken a prudent step by neutralizing the decisions of the governor and the speaker.
Looking at such controversies from the political point of view, a constitutional crisis leading to imposition of President’s Rule in a state is usually triggered by a power struggle between the Centre and the state government. And here, the governor and the speaker are invariably on opposite sides.
Coming back to the High Court order, the trust vote, if successful, could form the basis for striking down the President’s Rule. If the basis or the material forming the basis for an order is faulty, the order does not stand.
While the governor was withholding assent to the Appropriation Bill on the ground, pointing out that it was not supported by a majority, Rawat retaliated by parading 34 MLAs before him, claiming that if a chance was given, majority could be proved.
After the imposition of the President’s Rule, on Monday Rawat had submitted two memorandums to the Governor, signed by MLAs from Congress, BSP, UKD and the Independents. He had sought assent to the Appropriation Bill claiming that it was supported by a majority on 18 March.
Assuming that nine Congress MLAs had voted against the bill during the voice vote, Rawat’s claim that other MLAs supported it cannot be rejected.
The BJP claims that the Speaker was wrong in passing the Bill on voice vote and for rejecting the demand for division of votes.
It is a matter of debate if violation of rules can lead to a presumption of breakdown of constitutional machinery. “Even if it is established that there was some infirmity in the procedure in the enactment of the Amendment Act, in terms of Article 255 of the Constitution, the matters of procedures do not render invalid an Act to which assent has been given to by the President or the Governor, as the case may be,” the Supreme Court had said in a judgment (Mohd. Saeed Siddiqui case) delivered in April 2014.
Though the governor had initially asked Rawat to take a trust vote, the Centre imposed the President’s Rule and placed the House under suspended animation even before the the trust vote could take place.
Rawat challenged the President’s Rule before the high court on Monday.
The Uttarakhand political crisis had began when nine Congress legislators, including former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, whom Rawat replaced, revolted against the chief minister and turned to the BJP.