Uttarakhand High Court axes President's Rule; floor test on 29 April

In a major setback to the central government, the Uttarakhand High Court on Thursday set aside the imposition of President's Rule in the hill state.

FP Staff April 21, 2016 21:59:31 IST
Uttarakhand High Court axes President's Rule; floor test on 29 April

Dealing a major blow to Modi government, the Uttarakhand High Court on Thursday quashed the imposition of President's rule in the state and revived the Congress government headed by Harish Rawat, who has been asked to prove his majority on April 29.

Coming down heavily on the Centre for the 27 March proclamation under Article 356, a division bench of the High Court headed by Chief Justice K M Joseph said the imposition of the President's rule was contrary to the law laid down by the Supreme Court. However, according to reports, the BJP government at the Centre said that they will challenge High Court's order in Supreme Court.

Uttarakhand High Court axes Presidents Rule floor test on 29 April

Harish Rawat. File photo. PTI

Ordering restoration of the Rawat government, the court ordered the ousted Chief Minister to prove his government's majority on the floor of the Assembly on 29 April.

"In the present case which was set into motion with March 18 as day one and saw a proclamation being issued in less than ten days brings to the fore a situation where 356 has been used contrary to the law laid down by the apex court.

"The material (considered for the proclamation) has been found wanting and justifies judicial review interfering with the proclamation," the court said.

The court said "however, we must not be understood to have said that a solitary instance would not contribute for imposing 356. The proclamation of March 27 stands quashed."

It said status quo ante on the day of proclamation, meaning thereby, restoration of the government led by petitioner (Rawat) will revive.

The court said, however, status being restored the petitioner must necessarily obtain a vote of confidence by holding a floor test on 29 April.

The ruling triggered noisy celebrations outside Rawat's residence by Congress leaders and activists who shouted slogans against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

About Centre's contention that Rawat had not disclosed the representation of BJP MLAs demand for division of votes, the court said, "This is not a case where representation not actually produced as claimed by Respondent one (Centre). But greater care should have been taken (by petitioner).

"The fact remains, the petitioner actually produced it no doubt describing it as a representation given on the evening of March 18. Having regard to the totality of facts, we cannot decline judicial review on this ground of non-production of representation or the proclamation," the bench said.

With regard to use of Article 356 over the years, the bench said, "It is to be remembered that power under 356 came in for considerable misuse over the years. Incidentally, we must note that the party to which petitioner belongs has not covered itself with glory with regard to its actions in first 40 years of Independence which saw nearly 100 dissolutions taking place."

"Courts back then were of the view that they should adopt hands off approach. They took solace in the fact that the Parliament has to finally decide....This policy substantially precluded courts from interfering...," the bench said and added that "undoubtedly under written Constitution.. there is little place for unreviewable powers".

"Article 356 has to be used only as a measure of last resort and only when the government (concerned) cannot be run in accordance with Constitution," it said.

"There must be material. Material must be verified. Any material will not suffice. It has to be relevant material. Satisfaction has to be subjective satisfaction of Cabinet and not the President.

"Material considered for imposing Article 356 cannot be irrelevant or extraneous. It cannot be malafide. Actions of public figure at any level must be bonafide. Therefore, action under 356 is liable to be visited with invalidation if done with malafide.

The move comes as a relief to deposed Chief Minister Harish Rawat and the Congress camp in Uttarakhand. After two consecutive days of hearing on a matter filed by Rawat, the court said the proclamation of central rule in the state stood null and void.

Speaking at a media briefing, Rawat said that the High Court is a victory of people of Uttarakhand. "I stand vindicated. Government had worked very sincerely to present the state budget. Uttarakhand is a wounded state and I want to tell the government at the Centre that we will try to forget this bitter chapter. The road to development should not be hindered, this is my request to the government at the Centre."

Rawat added that this is not a time for celebration. The month of April was wasted. "The process of state budget was derailed. There's a lot more to do."

On a question about whether the Uttarakhand government thinks that BJP will give up so easily, Rawat said, "Vo to bade seene vale hain, hum sir jhooka ke kaam karne wale hain. Hum koi jhagra nahi chahte (They are people with puffy chests. We are the kind who bow to people and keep doing our work)."

On the matter of the sting video where the CM was seen bribing the defected Congress MLAs, Rawat said, "Nyay se badh ke jan nyay hota hai (I will believe whatever people want to believe.)"

Meanwhile, ANI reported saying that the BJP has called all its Uttarakhand MLAs to Dehradun on Thursday.

Speaking at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi, spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that the law is clear. "The imposition of President's Rule in Uttarakhand was unconstitutional. The court said when there is horse-trading and corruption, there are more reasons for protest. Ultimately the law is very clear and that law was deliberately and consciously violated by the central government. In the history of Independent India, this is the first time that within 10 days floor test has been ordered to be conducted. We hope that those who are watching different states with greedy eyes should learn a lesson.

Congress leader and former finance minister Indira Hridayesh said her party "saluted the judiciary for upholding truth and law".

The court also turned down an oral plea made by the Centre's counsel for a stay on its judgement to move the Supreme Court against it. The bench said we won't stay our own judgement. "You can go to the Supreme Court and get a stay," it said.

The issue came to the division bench of the court after a single judge ordered a floor test on 28 March following controversy over the passage of Appropriation Bill on 18 March with the BJP and dissident Congress MLAs claiming the money Bill had fallen and the government has lost its majority.

A day before the floor test was to have been held the Centre imposed President's Rule on March 27 citing breakdown of Constitutional machinery as a ground.

Harish Rawat approached the division bench challenging the imposition of the President's Rule. During the last three days of hearing, the court has made several strong observations against the Centre on the issue of imposition of President's Rule in Uttarakhand.

It had said on Monday that the proclamation under Article 356, just a day ahead of the floor test, amounted to cutting at the root of democracy. Subsequently, it had observed that the government was introducing chaos and undermining an elected government.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted soon after the HC order:

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said, "It is no embarrassment. There are problems within the Congress legislature. How is BJP responsible if there are dissidents within Congress party? Congress created this situation."

He further added,"The judiciary has its own role to play. We honour the decision of the High Court."

Left parties today lambasted the Narendra Modi government for imposing President's Rule in Uttarakhand, which was quashed by the high court there, saying the verdict was a "slap to the subverters" of the Constitution.

"The anti-constitutional juggernaut of BJP's central government has been halted in its tracks by the judiciary in Uttarakhand. It is a slap to the subverters of the Constitution," CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury told PTI.

Observing that "accountability is the hallmark of democracy," he asked whether "the BJP has it in itself to make heads (of those responsible) roll?"

ANI reported that the floor test for the state assembly will be conducted on 29 April. Meanwhile, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya met with party spokespersons at BJP headquarters in Delhi, soon after the news about revocation of President's Rule broke. Vijayvargiya was quoted by ANI as saying that he is "not surprised" after the High Court's order.

On Wednesday, the HC had maintained that the decision to impose President's Rule was subject to judicial review as even the President can go terribly wrong. Earlier in the day today, the High Court said it would be a travesty of justice if the Centre recalls its order imposing President's Rule and allows someone else to form a government now, strong words that came after its counsel was unable to give an undertaking till a verdict is given in the present case.

The court also told the Centre that it could allow the ousted Chief Minister Harish Rawat's petition challenging the imposition of President's Rule and ensure that a floor test is held.

"Should we consider their application for stay moved on April 7? It was expected that till the judgement is pronounced, Central government will not recall (Article) 356. If you recall 356 and call someone else to form a government, what else would it be other than travesty of justice," the bench said.

The strong words of the court came after the Centre's counsel said it was not in a position to give an assurance that the government would consider putting on hold the recall of its order imposing President's Rule for a week. It gave the government's counsel some time to take instructions.

The bench observed, "Otherwise you can do this in every state. Impose President's Rule for 10-15 days and then ask someone else to take oath. More than angry, we are pained that you are behaving like this. That the highest authority -Government of India - behaves like this. How can you think of playing with the court."

"What if we allow the petition? Then things would go back to what it was prior to the President's Rule and the state government will only have to prove majority by way of floor test. Can you take exception to that also?" the bench asked the Centre.

With inputs from agencies

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