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Uttarakhand trust vote: HC has crossed a line that even SC didn't

Saurav Datta | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 6:06 IST

On Tuesday, a single judge Bench of the Uttarakhand High Court struck down the Centre's imposition of President's Rule in the state, and directed that the Harish Rawat-led Congress government should prove its majority in the Assembly on 31 March.

However, there's one aspect of the ruling which could be regarded as going against the law, laid down by the Supreme Court.

This is the court's appointment of its Registrar General to attend the 31 March proceedings in the House, and submit his report in a sealed cover. The official is being sent as an observer.

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In the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling, a three-judge Bench of the apex court had held that it would be wrong for the judiciary to send any of its retired members or administrative officers to 'monitor' how a trust vote proceeding is being conducted, either in Parliament or state legislative assemblies. However, the court did direct that CCTV cameras be installed to record the proceedings.

The earlier ruling

What had prompted the Supreme Court to issue such an unprecedented direction? It was because at that time, there were grave apprehensions, or suspicion, of the trust vote's constitutional sanctity being marred by horse-trading.

Horse-trading is a term used to denote 'buying' legislators' loyalty with money or the promise of political favours.

This action of the apex court had left India's legal community defeated. While some legal eagles felt that the recording of proceedings was a good step against corruption in politics, others begged to differ. They pointed to Article 212(2) of the Constitution, which vests in the Speaker the ultimate prerogative to decide how House proceedings are to be conducted. Then how could the judiciary appropriate the power to issue directions to the Speaker?

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They were also critical of the Bench's reasoning - that "desperate times call for desperate measures", and said there was a risk that this would lead to a wide seizure of powers by the judiciary.

Somnath Chatterjee, at that time the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, was livid, and minced no words in slamming the court's ruling as 'interference' in the powers and rights of the legislature.

Overstepping the line

Thus, the Uttarakhand Bench's ruling oversteps the line that the Supreme Court held even it wouldn't cross.

In the present political scenario, which has put the BJP-led Centre on a collision course with the state government, allegations of horse-trading have been a prominent feature. In fact, nine Uttarakhand Congress MLAs were disqualified by Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal.

This alarm could have prompted the high court to issue its direction. But was it appropriate for a high court to ignore a Supreme Court ruling which is binding upon it?

There remains a strong possibility that the court's action could precipitate another needless political controversy.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 30 March 2016, 5:57 IST
Saurav Datta @SauravDatta29

Saurav Datta works in the fields of media law and criminal justice reform in Mumbai and Delhi.