NAINITAL (TIP): In a historic decision, the Uttarakhand High Court, on April 21, set aside the proclamation of President’s rule in the state and revived the Harish Rawat-led Congress government, asking it to prove its majority on the floor of the Assembly on April 29.
In a scathing indictment of the Central Government, a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice
KM Joseph and Justice VK Bist ordered, on a petition filed by Rawat, that the imposition of President’s rule on March 27 under Article 356 of the Constitution was not in consonance with the law laid down by the SC in such cases.
The judges dictated the ruling in the open court after the counsel for the Centre failed to give an undertaking that the government would not revoke President’s rule for a week till the court gave its verdict. The petitioner’s counsel had said there were apprehensions that the Centre would revoke President’s rule for forming a BJP-led government in the state.
The Bench made strong observations on the Centre resorting to Article 356 of the Constitution in the case. “Be it suspension or dissolution, the effect is toppling a democratically elected government. It breeds cynicism in the hearts of citizens who participate in the democratic system and also undermines democracy and the foundation of federalism,” the Bench said.
Allowing Rawat’s petition, the court restored status quo ante as prevailing on the day of imposition of Central rule. It also upheld the disqualification of nine rebel Congress MLAs by the Speaker and said their case, pending with a Single Bench, would be heard and decided without any prejudice.
The judges observed that that the material considered for imposing President’s rule had been found wanting. “When stakes are as high as this, should we throw out the petitioner on this ground? (of alleged suppression of fact that division of votes was sought after the Appropriation Bill was passed). What is at stake here is not just the petitioner’s government but democracy at large,” the Bench.
The Centre had argued that the petitioner had not disclosed the representation by BJP MLAs to the Governor seeking division of votes.
Ordering restoration of the Rawat government, the court said he must necessarily obtain a vote of confidence by holding a floor test on April 29.
“The present case, which was set into motion with March 18 as day one and saw a proclamation being issued in less than 10 days, brings to the fore a situation where Article 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.
“However, we must not be understood to have said that a solitary instance would not contribute for imposing Article 356,” the Bench said. It turned down an oral plea by the Centre’s counsel for a stay on the judgment to move the Supreme Court. “There is no President’s rule now. The government has revived. We had told you to give us time (to write the verdict). But you forced us to pronounce it today. We had said we will not allow (ourselves) to be taken for a ride. We have no objection to being overruled. You go to the Supreme Court and get it (judgment) stayed,” the court said.
Rejecting the government’s argument against the scope of judicial review of President’s decision in the case, the Bench said: “Attainment of collateral purpose, though it may appear to be to secure legitimate purpose, is inadmissible”. It said the issue must be seen on a larger canvas as India was a union of states with the Centre and states sovereign in their respective spheres and Article 356 must be used as a last resort with “greatest care.”
Earlier in the day, the High Court said it would be a travesty of justice if the Centre recalled its order imposing President’s Rule and allowed someone else to form government. With regard to Article 356, the Bench observed: “It is to be remembered that power under Article 356 came in for considerable misuse over the years. Incidentally, we must note that the party to which the petitioner belongs has not covered itself with glory with regard to its actions in the first 40 years of Independence which saw nearly 100 dissolutions.”