EVEN AS it ruled out a floor test in the Uttarakhand assembly on April 29, the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked whether the Centre could consider factors like assembly proceedings and reported failure of the appropriation bill, disqualification of MLAs by the Speaker and delay in floor test\ as valid reasons for imposing President’s Rule. It also observed that a floor test is a “natural corollary” if a “government is in minority”.
Extending its earlier stay on the Uttarakhand High Court’s order, the apex court said it would take a decision on the Centre’s appeal against quashing President’s Rule by May 13. The Uttarakhand High Court had set aside President’s Rule and ordered a floor test on April 29.
“Speaker is the master of the House. Whether a bill has been passed or not, can the central government or the President go into it? What was the number of MLAs voting for this side or the other side is also for the Speaker to decide. How can somebody else get into the business of the House? It is a million dollar question if you could have taken this as a ground for invoking Article 356. Here is a situation where one side says that the bill has been passed, but the other side refutes,” observed the bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh.
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“Article 356 is a rare phenomenon… if a government is in minority, floor test has to happen as a natural corollary… ultimately, if we sustain the President’s Rule, then also floor test will have to happen,” observed the bench.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who was appearing for the Centre, said that after the appropriation bill failed to be passed in the assembly, the inference was that the Congress government had lost its majority. But the bench said the Speaker maintained that the bill was passed.
It said the manner in which a money bill is passed and the consequences if such a bill is defeated on the floor of the House are “issues for times to come” and hence require detailed arguments. The bench has decided to frame larger issues of law to rule on various aspects of President’s Rule, fixing the matter for hearing on May 3.
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Rohatgi said all actions of the Speaker could not remain outside the purview of judicial review. He said a sting operation purportedly showing former Chief Minister Harish Rawat offering bribe to rebel Congress MLAs was also “relevant” material for invoking President’s Rule. He contended that the bill was not sent to the Governor for almost 10 days, which corroborated that it was not validly passed.
“Can the fact of not sending the money bill immediately trigger President’s Rule? Can’t the Governor ask for a bill… we are not on a barium chemical test on the sting operation, but it is also a serious issue since it would mean in every case of a sting operation, there could be Emergency imposed,” replied the bench, adding that the issues arising in the case have to be debated “ very seriously”.
“You can condemn such acts (horse-trading) legally and morally and even prosecute such people, but can you straightaway invoke President’s Rule in all such cases? It creates a dent in both ways. That is why the ultimate solution is held to be the floor test,” observed the court.
It said constitutional comity and powers have to be balanced in cases where Presidential proclamations have been challenged.
Appearing for Rawat, senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Kapil Sibal questioned why a floor test was aborted by way of a Presidential proclamation, and cited various SC judgment holding that “floor test is the only panacea”.
“If alleged corruption is relied upon as a ground for President’s Rule, I am sure every state government can be dismissed by the Centre. Good governance and lack of malafide would have prompted the Centre to let the floor test be held on April 25 as per the Governor’s recommendation,” they said. The lawyers said it was “shocking” that the government in New Delhi decided that a bill in Uttarakhand assembly was not duly passed.
Meanwhile, the AG reiterated the central government’s undertaking that it would not revoke President’s Rule without the court’s approval.