QUESTIONING THE Centre’s decision to impose President’s Rule in the state a day before the scheduled floor test in the assembly, the Uttarakhand High Court on Monday said the “root of the matter is you (central government) are cutting at root of democracy”. It said the Governor should be a “non-partisan” person, not an “agent” of the central government.
The court also asked whether it was not “totally extraneous” for the central government to be concerned about the disqualification of nine rebel MLAs and to “interfere” in the affairs of the state, which, it said, should be done “sparingly in extraordinary instances”.
“What is passing through… our mind is that is it the lookout of the central government as to what would have happened on March 28 (when floor test was to be held) in view of the changed composition and in view of the nine disqualified rebel MLAs? Will it not be totally extraneous for the central government, which is ruled by another political party, to be concerned by the changed composition,” a bench of Chief Justice K M Joseph and Justice V K Bist asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.
“The floor test was scheduled for March 28… The Governor had communicated to the Speaker about the floor test. What was the hurry to impose President’s Rule? The Governor has to call the shots. He is not an agent of the central government. He is a non-partisan person,” said the court.
“Even if horse-trading was going on, the proper thing to do would be to order a floor test and wait for the results. You (central government) are supposed to be hands off and have a neutral stand,” observed the bench.
It also questioned the delay by the Governor in ordering a floor test. “Who has created this problem? Don’t you think the problem could have been solved in 24 hours if the Governor had asked the CM, in writing, to undergo a floor test? What was the need for oral communication,” questioned the court, which was a hearing a writ petition for ousted Chief Minister Harish Rawat challenging the imposition of President’s Rule and other related pleas.
Referring to the central government’s argument that the Speaker ignored the demand of the 35 MLAs, including nine rebel Congress MLAs, who had sought a division of votes on the passage of the Appropriation Bill on March 18, the court said: “Can one solitary instance topple a democratically-elected government in its fourth-fifth year… root of the matter is you are cutting at root of democracy.”
Referring to the communication sent by the Governor to the Speaker regarding the MLAs’ demand for division of votes, the court observed that the Governor should have “stayed his hand”. “Any intrusion over the powers of the Speaker has to be guarded… the Speaker is a constitutional dignitary… the communication made by the Governor to the Speaker could have trampled down the boundaries,” it said.
The bench said this case was going to be an example where boundaries between constitutional authorities, like President and Governor, were drawn to ensure that powers “are not trampled upon by one or the other authority”.
Arguing against the plea challenging imposition of President’s rule in Uttarakhand, the central government told the court that the Speaker committed the “biggest sin” by disallowing the demand 35 legislators for a division vote on a money bill, thereby “allowing the minority government to function”.
“The petitioner (Rawat) has tried to show that everything was hunky dory on March 18, when the voting on appropriation bill took place. However, he twisted and suppressed facts to the court that a memorandum was sent to the Governor that morning seeking division of votes. Also, there was an oral demand on the floor of the house for division of vote. He (Rawat) was privy to this information. However, he chose to suppress these facts only to show that the rebellion took place after the passage of the bill,” Rohatgi told the court.
“Democracy is about majority. Voting on money bill, here the appropriation bill, is the biggest floor test. On March 18, there was a contest and there was demand for a division vote by 35 MLAs. However, without any justification, the Speaker carried out a voice vote. This is the biggest sin committed by him. Allowing minority to function over the majority was to destroy democracy,” Rohatgi said.