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President's Rule quashed by HC, Harish Rawat back as Uttarakhand CM

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 22 April 2016, 8:37 IST
QUICK PILL
The decision
  • The Uttarakhand High Court in Nainital quashed the Centre\'s decision to impose President\'s Rule
  • It reinstated Harish Rawat as CM, and set 29 April as the date for him to take the floor test in the Assembly
The observations
  • The court found fault with the reasoning behind the Centre\'s decision
  • It said: "Material considered for imposing Article 356 cannot be malafide"
More in the story
  • Political reactions from the Opposition
  • The Supreme Court precedents the court followed in quashing the Centre\'s decision
  • What will the BJP do next?

The Uttarakhand High Court in Nainital dealt a major blow to the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre on Thursday, 21 April. It quashed the imposition of President's Rule in the hill state and reinstated Harish Rawat as the Chief Minister.

Allowing Rawat's plea challenging President's Rule, the court further ordered that he would take a floor test in the Assembly on 29 April to prove his majority.

After two consecutive days of hearings, the Division Bench of the High Court, headed by Chief Justice KM Joseph, yet again lashed out at the Centre, claiming that invoking Article 356 in the state was against the laws laid down by the Supreme Court.

"In the present case, which was set into motion with 18 March as day one, and saw a proclamation being issued in less than 10 days, brings to the fore a situation where 356 has been used contrary to the law laid down by the apex court," the court said.

The court's disapproval

Questioning the Centre's intentions behind the imposition of President's Rule, the court said the material provided for the proclamation was found to be wanting, and "justifies judicial review interfering with the proclamation".

It pointed out how Article 356 has been misused over the years, and even put the Congress in the dock, claiming the party has "not covered itself with glory with regard to its actions in the first 40 years of independence, which saw nearly 100 dissolutions taking place".

Stating that the use of Article 356 should be a "measure of last resort", and should only be invoked when a "government cannot run in accordance with the Constitution", the court further observed: "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 the Cabinet and not the President.

HC says material supporting President's Rule was found wanting, justified judicial review

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

On Wednesday, the court had said that even the President's decision to invoke Article 356 was open to judicial review. Justice Joseph had said: "The power of judicial review is with the courts. It cannot be with the President. In earlier times, courts wouldn't interfere [in a President's decision]. There's nothing such as non-reviewability or absolute power [these days]."

Cong celebrates

Meanwhile, the Congress was in a celebratory mood, and said the party was "proud of Indian democracy and the judicial system".

Speaking to the media, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: "Never before has there been such a blatant interference, both in the Governor's direction to have a floor test on 28 March, and in the Speaker's order on the disqualification of nine MLAs, through the use of 356."

He added that the Congress is confident that this "deplorable process of devaluing the democracy and destroying federalism and democracy" is arrested by this judgement. He said the judgement should teach those eyeing the governments in Himachal Pradesh and Manipur (read: BJP) to "learn to control their greed", and "realise that power is available only through democratic means, and not the misuse of Article 356".

Singhvi said that the whole edifice for invoking Article 356 was based on the 'fact' that 35 out of 68 MLAs demanded Division on 18 March, adding: "That edifice was nonexistent, because only 27 MLAs signed a memorandum of the BJP. Those nine MLAs did not sign it till they were sent a second memorandum at 11.30 pm, after the floor test was over, after the voting was over."

The three precedents

Singhvi, a senior lawyer, said the High Court, in its ruling, had only followed the Supreme Court's Constitution Benches' decisions in three legendary cases, which have come to define Article 356.

These three, in order of chronology, are State of Rajasthan v Union of India & Others (1977), SR. Bommai v Union of India (1994), and Rameshwar Prasad v State of Bihar (2005).

Taken together, these three cases lay down that Article 356, which is an emergency provision, should be used only in the direst of situations.

HC follows SC decisions in three legendary cases, which have come to define Article 356

Moreover, in the Bommai and Prasad cases, the apex court had made it amply clear that the Governor's report, if based on malafide considerations, could not escape judicial review. And, that if the proclamation of President's Rule is based on such a report, it would be struck down by the court.

Uttarakhand Governor KK Paul wrote to the Centre on eight occasions, and not in a single one of them did he recommend President's Rule. Then how could the Centre take a unilateral decision, despite knowing fully well that the Governor's report is essential for invoking Article 356?

Also, not even the Supreme Court can examine the Assembly Speaker's actions, because they are protected by Article 212 of the Constitution. The government's sheer audacity is exposed when it contended that it is empowered to do what even the country's highest court is prohibited from doing.

Rawat jubilant and confident

Soon after the court passed the order, celebrations broke out at Rawat's residence in Dehradun. He said that truth has finally prevailed, and claimed he was confident of proving his majority.

Addressing journalists at his residence, Rawat sought cooperation from the Central government to fulfill his duties towards the people of the state. "They are powerful, mighty and broad-chested. We do not talk of fighting, but of cooperation. I would request the Centre to forget the past and work in the spirit of cooperative federalism," he said.

Thanking the court on behalf of all the 'progressive and democratic forces', Rawat said this is not a time to celebrate; instead it's a time to focus on the people of the state, who have suffered during these two months of instability.

"The poor man's budget was ordered to be thrown into the dustbin, and welfare schemes went haywire at a time when all schemes lined up were to be fine-tuned towards the end of financial year," he said.

Opposition blasts BJP

Political parties opposed to the BJP lambasted the Central government for interfering in the matters of non-BJP governments in other states.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the Centre should respect democracy. Minutes after the court's verdict was announced, Kejriwal tweeted: "This is a huge embarrassment to Modi Govt. He shud stop interfering wid elected govts and respect democracy."

The CPI(M) attacked the Modi government for subverting democracy, as Sitaram Yechury tweeted: "Anti-constitutional juggernaut of BJP's central govt halted in its tracks by judiciary in Uttarakhand. A slap to subverters of Constitution."

The party also issued a statement, which said that since the BJP is unable to form governments in certain states, it is "resorting to such subterfuge".

"In this instance, those responsible for such an undemocratic exercise in Uttarakhand must be brought to book. Accountability is the hallmark of democracy," read the statement.

BJD leader Pinaki Mishra said this was a political decision gone horribly wrong, and hoped that the Supreme Court will maintain the same kind of fearlessness that the High Court displayed in this case.

BJP to move SC

The BJP has decided to move the Supreme Court on 22 April. It said it was not surprised with the order, considering what the court has been saying for the last few days.

BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvarghiya told reporters: "We are not surprised by the judgment. With the kind of observations being made for the three days by the court, such an order was expected. There is a question on our minds, as Chief Minister Harish Rawat, who was caught in a sting, has been given relief by the court.

"The government was in a minority yesterday, it is in a minority today and tomorrow. It will be proved on 29 April."

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

First published: 22 April 2016, 8:37 IST
 
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