In a severe indictment of the Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule in the state, the Uttarakhand High Court Thursday quashed the order saying it “undermines the foundation of federalism” and “toppling of a democratically elected government… breeds cynicism in the hearts of citizens who participate in a democratic system”.
Allowing the petition of ousted Chief Minister Harish Rawat of the Congress, the bench of Chief Justice K M Joseph and Justice V K Bist directed him to take a floor test on April 29.
The bench also said that the nine Congress MLAs who had defected and aligned with the opposition BJP will have to pay the price “for their sin”: “It is a constitutional sin to defect. If defection takes place, they have to pay for their sin.”
The bench clarified that its observations on the nine rebels must “not (be) treated as anything to trammel the court (the single-judge bench) that is considering their disqualification… the court (single-judge bench) will take an independent decision based on the material before it and by applying its mind.” Justice U C Dhyani will hear the matter Saturday.
The two judges did not spare the Congress either, observing that the party “has not covered itself with glory” insofar as President’s rule is concerned.
“It is to be remembered that power under Article 356 came in for considerable misuse. Incidentally, we must notice that the party to which the petitioner (Rawat) belongs has not covered itself with glory. In the first 40 years of independence, nearly 100 cases of dissolution took place.”
Observing that imposition of President’s rule has to be used as a “last resort” and “with greatest care”, the bench ordered: “Proclamation (of President’s rule) stands quashed… elected state government will revive… petition must succeed.”
“Imposition of President’s rule should be seen on a larger canvas because India is a union of states, and in a federal structure, the authority at the Centre and state are sovereign in respective spheres… One thing should be clear that it (President’s rule) should be used as a last resort and with greatest care,” the court said.
“In our view, be it suspension or dissolution, the effect is toppling of a democratically elected government. It breeds cynicism in the hearts of citizens who participate in a democratic system… it undermines the foundation of federalism”
The court said Rawat not seeking a floor test cannot be a ground for imposing President’s rule: “We would clearly think that the vote of confidence not sought earlier cannot be put at the doorstep of the petitioner or blaming him or for imposing Article 356…. This is not a matter between an individual and government. It is a matter between one elected government and another elected government.”
The bench said the material that the Centre was relying upon were “irrelevant” and “extraneous”, and that its decision was “contrary” to law laid down by the Supreme Court.
“What is at stake is democracy at large. The soul of the matter is whether the federal structure that we have is open for the central government to get rid of a state government… supplant or uproot the elected government, introduce chaos and undermine the confidence of the little who cast their vote, braving snow, heat and rain,” the bench said.
“Undoubtedly, under the written Constitution… there is little space for irreviewable powers… our understanding is that Article 356 has to be used in extraordinary situations. It has to be a measure of last resort.”
The judges said that “satisfaction has to be subjective satisfaction of the Cabinet and not that of President” when it imposes President’s rule.
“There must be material and it must be verified and material should be relevant. Satisfaction has to be subjective satisfaction of the Cabinet and not the President. The material cannot be irrelevant and extraneous. It cannot be malafide,” the bench said.
On a purported sting operation featuring Harish Rawat, the court expressed displeasure and said “corruption has plagued” the body politic and the court’s order “does not bar” any action against Rawat in “accordance with law”.
“Corruption is an issue and we are completely aghast. India has had enough of it. It continues to plague the body politic.”
It also pulled up the Centre saying “merely” because Rawat figures in the purported sting operation, that “cannot validate” action to impose President’s rule.
The court said that it is the “duty of the Cabinet” to make its decisions public “as enshrined under the Right to Information Act”.
“It is the opening of windows and allowing the sunlight of knowledge which is the best disinfectant… (against corruption) that has plagued our body politic,” the judges said.
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