Uttarakhand: SC orders floor test; Rawat still in the dock
In a great relief to Harish Rawat, the Supreme Court Friday fixed 10 May for a floor test of his ousted Congress regime in Uttarakhand.
As soon as the order was pronounced, celebrations broke out at the ousted chief minister's residence. Since the court has barred the nine disqualified MLAs from voting, Rawat is set to sail through the test comfortably.
Without the nine legislators, the assembly is left with a strength of 62. Rawat has the support of 33 of them - 27 of the Congress and six of the Progressive Democratic Front - a fact he hammered home while speaking to the media in Dehradun.
In the court, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said the central government was ready to conduct a floor test, and even requested for a former election commissioner to be appointed to oversee the exercise.
The court said: "This Court cannot direct them to participate in the Assembly. We say no more on this score. However, our observation in praesenti will not cause any kind of prejudice to the merits of the case of disqualified Members of Legislative Assembly, which is sub-judice before the High Court."
The court declined to appoint an external observer, and instead directed the principal secretary of the assembly to monitor the proceedings and "see that the voting is peaceful" and videotaped.
Scheduling the voting from 11 am-1 pm on 10 May, the bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh said during this time, President's Rule in the state will be put under abeyance. It further directed that members voting in favour and against the motion "shall singularly vote and raise their hands one by one" to be counted by the principal secretary.
The principal secretary will submit all records of the proceedings, including the result of the voting and the video recording, in a sealed enveloped to the court on 11 May. The principal secretary, along with the police chief, have also been tasked to ensure that only "qualified members" participate in the voting.
Interestingly, the court didn't allow the disqualified MLAs to abstain from voting even though the Uttarakhand High court is yet to decide on the plea challenging their disqualification.
The high court is scheduled to hear the plea on 9 May. Whether it upholds their disqualification or reinstates them, whichever party is affected by the ruling will likely approach the Supreme Court - a move that could further delay the floor test.
The video of the "sting" was sent to Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Chandigarh, which claimed it to be genuine. On 5 May, the CBI summoned Rawat to "explain his position". In this context, although the apex court's latest order has come as a breather, Rawat's worries are far from over.
Edited by Mehraj D. Lone