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#Uttarakhand: little joy for Congress as SC stays high court verdict

Saurav Datta & Akash Bisht | Updated on: 22 April 2016, 22:40 IST

When the Uttarakhand High Court, on 21 April, quashed the imposition of President's Rule in the state, the Congress was elated. But with the Supreme Court admitting the Centre's appeal and staying the high court ruling till 27 April, the party's leaders might be worried.

The Narendra Modi regime, which came in for scathing criticism from the high court, had immediately made it clear that it wouldn't take things lying down.

The scope of the judiciary's power to review decisions regarding imposition of President's Rule under Article 356, and the high court ignoring the alleged "breakdown of constitutional machinery" in Uttarakhand - these were the twin prongs of the Centre's argument before the Supreme Court.

None of judiciary's business?

Insisting that the cabinet's advice to the President to declare President's Rule was outside the bounds of judicial review, the Centre contended that the high court had overstepped its jurisdiction. This despite a catena of Supreme Court ruling holding that judges do have the authority to examine the government's exercise of power under Article 356, essentially an emergency provision which the framers of the constitution wanted to be used as sparingly as possible.

On its part, the Supreme Court asked the Centre for an undertaking that it would not revoke the President's Rule till the next hearing on 27 April. This is because the court did not want the government to succeed in its efforts to get an upper hand on Uttarakhand's suspended Congress government and, in the process, disturb the principles of federalism.

Venkaiah Naidu: President's rule was temporarily imposed. The assembly can be revived anytime

An interesting issue that came up in the hearing was about the availability of the high court's judgment. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, expressing both agitation and dismay, said the Centre had suffered prejudice since it was in the dark about many significant aspects of the high court's ruling.

In response, the Supreme Court directed the high court to provide copies of its judgment to the Centre latest by 26 April, so that its pursuit of the appeal isn't hobbled.

With the high court judgment stayed, Harish Rawat is no longer Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, and cannot hold any cabinet meetings or take decisions, a visibly ebullient Rohatgi later told the media.

Hanging in the balance

Meanwhile, in Dehradun, Rawat said he would abide by the interim order of the court and reiterated his concern about how the political stability would impact the people and development of the state.

Speaking to the media, Rawat said, "We will follow the Supreme Court's judgment with due respect. This order is interim, till 27th, because the Supreme Court didn't have the copy of the high court's judgment. As a former chief minister, I would like to request the Supreme Court to give a verdict as soon as possible so that the state does not have to suffer because of the political crisis which has already stalled development in many ways."

SC to HC: Give a copy of judgment to the Centre by 26 April so its pursuit of the appeal isn't hobbled

Welcoming the court's instruction to the central government to not revoke President's Rule until the petition is decided, Rawat said it would dissuade the BJP from attempting to form a government. "Until the Supreme Court makes a final judgment, President's rule can't be revoked, and now, the BJP cannot form a government the way it was trying to do in the past by using unfair means," he said.

Former chief minister and rebel leader Vijay Bahuguna, too, praised the SC's order and hoped the HC judgment of April 21 would not find favour with the apex court. He had earlier said the HC verdict was full of loopholes and that the SC's decision would clear all confusion.

Defending the decision to invoke Article 356 in Uttarakhand, BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu said his government was left with no choice "because there was a constitutional breakdown, so temporarily President's rule was imposed. The assembly can be revived anytime."

First published: 22 April 2016, 22:40 IST