The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to examine a first-of-its kind petition by Uttarakhand Governor Aziz Qureshi, challenging the Narendra Modi-led NDA government’s push to make him quit the post.
A bench led by Chief Justice R M Lodha issued a notice to the Centre and sought its response in six weeks on the petition that raised serious objections to the Union Home Secretary’s phone call to Qureshi, asking him to resign. The court also issued notices to Home Secretary Anil Goswami and the Uttarakhand government.
The bench, also comprising Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton F Nariman, referred the matter to a five-judge Constitution Bench since the issue involved interpretation of Article 156 of the Constitution that deals with the procedure and other aspects regarding removal of Governors. Under Article 156, a Governor holds his office during the pleasure of the President.
The petition is set to put to test the Centre’s decision to nudge gubernatorial authorities to either resign or to remove them at will. Since the Modi government took charge at Centre, seven Governors were nudged to quit while two were sacked.
Appearing for Qureshi, senior advocate and former cabinet Minister Kapil Sibal said the court must examine the procedure adopted in this case to seek his removal, keeping in view the the fetters on the government’s power.
At this, the bench told Sibal that the President’s discretion to ask a Governor to discontinue had to be communicated through somebody since the President or the Prime Minister is not expected to make phone calls themselves. “It is our prima facie view. Suppose the Home Secretary conveys the President’s will. What argument can lie against this procedure?” asked the bench.
Sibal responded that after the July 31 phone call by the Home Secretary, Qureshi had written to him, and the response stated that the matter was being considered. He said there was a constitutional question to be decided as to whether the Home Secretary has the authority to call the Governor demanding he step down.
The bench further noted that the constitutionality of the procedure of a Governor’s removal could be examined only after the removal has taken place but Sibal asserted that the entire subject matter revolved around seeking the removal.
The court then agreed to consider the constitutional questions, and asked the matter to be placed before a five-judge bench after six weeks.
Qureshi had recently heaped praises on the Modi government after he got the additional charge of Governorship of Uttar Pradesh in June this year. Former Union minister Ram Naik was appointed the UP Governor thereafter.
Questioning the Home Secretary’s “audacity” in calling him up and asking him to put in his papers, Qureshi has wondered in his petition how a Constitutional office of a Governor can be undermined by a Secretary-level officer in this manner.
Citing Articles 155 and 156(1) of the Constitution, Qureshi said if at all someone should ask him to quit, it could only be the President and no one else.
The petition cited the 2010 decision by the Supreme Court in B P Singhal’s case where strict curbs were imposed on the executive power of Centre to remove Governors at whims. BJP MP Singhal had challenged the UPA government’s 2004 decision to remove four Governors.
The SC had then ruled that Governors were not employees of the Union government to warrant removal on the ground of loss of “confidence” in them. It had said that while no cause or reason be disclosed or assigned for removal by exercise of such prerogative power by the President, some valid cause should exist.
It said that the President’s decision could be subjected to judicial review if the petitioner could show that the order was manifestly arbitrary or whimsical or malafide.