Emphasizing “more on propriety than legality”, the Supreme Court Friday stayed till April 27 the judgment of the Uttarakhand High Court that quashed the Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule in the state.
A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh temporarily blocked the revival of the Harish Rawat-led Congress government while restoring President’s rule. The court also recorded the Centre’s undertaking that it would not revoke President’s rule until April 27, the next date of hearing, when it would also take a call on whether a floor test should be held on April 29 in accordance with the High Court order.
“What has been happening is a very serious and grievous matter for any state…you don’t revoke President’s rule just like that. Everything has to be looked into…a balance has to be struck,” said the bench as it expressed displeasure at the High Court for not releasing a written judgment.
Allowing a petition by the ousted Chief Minister, a High Court bench headed by Chief Justice K M Joseph had on Thursday dictated its judgment in the open court but said the written judgment would be made available only next week.
This, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi contended, was improper since Rawat moved to “steal a march” by taking 11 decisions after calling a Cabinet meeting late last night without an official copy of the judgment being made available to the Centre. He sought an immediate stay on the operation of the judgment.
Allowing the AG’s plea, the bench agreed that in a matter as serious as President’s rule, a written judgment should have been made available immediately after the pronouncement, or the operation of the judgment could be deferred.
It turned down a plea by Rawat’s counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi not to issue any interim order and rather record Rawat’s undertaking that he would not act as a Chief Minister as far as taking policy decisions were concerned. “He is not a vice-chancellor,” retorted the bench.
It asserted: “There has to be a balance. We are slightly concerned…Article 356 (Presidential proclamation) is a serious matter for both sides…there are a few matters of propriety. If the High Court had signed the judgment, we could have looked into it. For a party to take remedial action, a written order has to be there.”
Speaking for the bench, Justice Singh said: “If I were the High Court judge, I would have made my judgment operational only after three or four days when it is signed and ready. It is more on propriety than legality. Governance of a state cannot be left in the lurch.”
While issuing notices to Rawat who was the writ petitioner before the High Court, the bench said that the High Court shall provide its judgment to the parties by April 26 and the copy of the signed verdict shall then be placed before the apex court.
“Interference by a constitutional court in exercise of its power of judicial review pertaining to justifiability of Presidential proclamation is a serious issue… We will take on record the copy of the judgment and go through it. This matter may go to a Constitution bench,” observed the bench.
Arguing for the Centre, the AG and senior lawyer Harish Salve had urged the bench to immediately stay the operation of the Thursday judgment, saying it was not a property dispute where Rawat could rush to open the locks of the Chief Minister’s Office and start taking decisions.
The Governor has not accepted the 11 decisions of the Cabinet made last night on the ground he has not seen the judgment either, said the lawyers.
During the hour-long hearing, AG pointed out that the Rawat government was evidently in a minority after its Appropriation Bill was defeated in the Assembly and 35 MLAs in the 71-member House had requested the Governor for a floor test. A sting operation, Rohatgi added, had shown Rawat trying to gain majority through horse-trading and bribery.
At this the bench responded: “We are not going to get into what happens inside the Assembly… the issue for us is on whether grounds of proclamation were justified and met the norms of (the S R) Bommai judgment.” It also commented: “Horse-trading creates a dent in the democracy.”
Senior advocates Singhvi and Kapil Sibal, who represented the Speaker of the House, argued the judgment cannot be stayed only on the ground of non-availability of its signed copy. “Staying the judgment would virtually mean allowing the appeal,” said the lawyers, adding nothing would happen between today and April 29.
But the court said its order was based only on the issue of propriety as a judgment was sought to be acted upon without a written copy of it made available.