Nainital: Continuing to question the imposition of President’s rule in Uttarakhand, on Tuesday, the high court criticised the central government for having interfered in the state’s affairs, even blaming it for political “chaos” in the state.
On Monday, April 18, the high court had questioned the Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule during former Chief Minister Harish Rawat’s rule.
The court was hearing a plea from Rawat challenging the imposition of President’s rule on March 27. In addition the court also discussed a letter written by 35 MLAs, including the nine rebel Congress MLAs, to the governor seeking a direction to Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal to allow their demand for a division of votes on the passage of the Appropriation Bill on March 18, as well as a communication from the governor’s secretariat on the subject.
“How can it be said that the 35 MLAs would have voted against the government unless and until it is actually done,” the court asked on Tuesday. “What the speaker would do on March 27 could not have been divined by the cabinet on March 26. Assuming that they did divine, it was entirely irrelevant, for the central government to take that decision (to impose President’s rule) because then it would mean that the central government would be accused to be involved in politics,” the bench said.
While Rawat has claimed that the Appropriation Bill was “Constitutionally” passed in the assembly, the BJP’s central leadership had accused Kunjwal of “passing” the bill when 35 of the 67 MLAs present in the assembly had asked for a division of votes, which he had denied.
The bench, comprising high court Chief Justice K.M. Joseph and Justice V.K. Bisht asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi (the Centre’s counsel) whether it was “totally extraneous” on the part of the central government, led by the BJP (the opposition in Uttarakhand), to “intervene” in the state affairs, especially in light of the floor test that would have been held had President’s rule not been imposed.
“What is passing through our mind is, is it the lookout of the central government as to what would have happened on March 28 (when the floor test was to be held) in view of the changed composition, and in view of the nine ousted MLAs?” the bench asked. “The only Constitutional way to test majority was to hold the floor test. You still have to go for floor test,” they added on Tuesday.
The bench observed that “ideally he (the governor) should have stayed his hands,” while referring to the communication sent by the governor to the speaker regarding the MLAs’ memo. “This amounts to giving an order over the phone. Any intrusion into freedom of the Speaker has to be guarded. The Speaker is also a Constitutional authority. Some boundaries have been crossed here,” the bench said.
“Can one solitary instance (of not granting division of votes) topple a democratically elected government in its fourth-fifth year? … You are cutting at the roots of democracy,” the judges said.
As he finished arguing why the Centre was justified in bringing Uttarakhand under President’s rule, Rohatgi handed over a pen drive containing a sting operation that allegedly shows Rawat talking about MLAs being brought to his side with bribes. The court, however, was not impressed with the video. “Even if someone has done a sting operation … you still have to go for a floor test,” the bench said.
(With PTI inputs)