When the Gujarat High Court last week upheld Governor Kamla Beniwals decision to sanction the prosecution of Fisheries Minister Purushottam Solanki,it marked the culmination of one of several showdowns between the governor and the state government.
Before this,the governor had refused to clear several Bills and had her way in appointing R A Mehta as Lokayukta. The government had once sought her recall,without success.
In Solankis case,the cabinet had met to discuss the possibility of allowing his prosecution and had decided against it,but the governor then ignored that and granted sanction,following which Solanki went to court,leading to the order upholding the governors right to sanction the ministers prosecution.
The case against Solanki dates back to 2008 when Ishaq Mohammad Maradia,a small-time fishing contractor based in Banaskantha,was denied a contract for fishing in a state reservoir. The government hadnt invited tenders,though a government resolution of 2004 stated that would be the route for awarding fishing contracts.
Maradia moved the High Court that year,submitting an affidavit by a contractor who alleged that Solanki had asked him for Rs 30 lakh,and that Solanki had called a group of people to his office and house in Gandhinagar and struck deals to give them licences on the basis of upset prices rather than invite tenders. Based on the affidavit,Maradia alleged the minister had demanded a total Rs 11 crore for 58 such fishing contracts.
In September 2008,the court scrapped the contracts and ordered that tenders be invited. These tenders fetched the government Rs 45 crore in a single year,against Rs 2.4 crore for the contracts granted by the minister. Maradia estimated that this worked out to a loss of Rs 400 crore to the government in the 10 years that Solanki had been granting contracts,and moved the High Court in 2010,this time to seek Solankis prosecution.
The High Court directed the state government to decide on his prosecution in consultation with the governor. The cabinet met and decided there werent enough grounds for prosecution and conveyed its decision to the court in June this year,after which Maradia moved a petition for contempt of court because the governor hadnt been consulted.
The government eventually wrote to the governor in July,informing her of the cabinets decision. She overruled this and granted permission to prosecute Solanki on July 27.
Following this,the state challenged the governors right to do so,claiming that the executive power of state lies with the cabinet and not with the governor,who is a constitutional head of state. The High Court has now rejected this claim,saying the power of the governor to grant approval of prosecution is well within the Constitution.
Governor vs government
Just before the 2010 local bodies elections,Beniwal rejected a bill seeking to make voting compulsory and reserve 50 per cent of seats for women in all local bodies. Other bills she rejected were the Impact Fee Bill for regularising illegal constructions,the Private University Bill,and the Kutch (Bombay) Inami Area Bill.
The BJP started a statewide Rajbhavan or Congress Bhavan? campaign in 2011. Gujarat BJP president R C Faldu wrote to the President demanding Governor Beniwals recall; Chief Minister Narendra Modi wrote to the Prime Minister against the Centres alleged interference in state subjects. The Gujarat BJP also tried to highlight the governors alleged role in a land scam in Rajasthan.
When Beniwal appointed retired judge R A Mehta as Lokayukta,the government went to court. High Court in January 2012 upheld the appointment.
CLIPPING HER WINGS
Apart from trying to get her recalled,the government tried to get the governors powers reduced. Last winter,secretaries were asked to weigh the option of the legislature impeaching the governor but the officials reported it was not advisable,if possible. The Assembly passed the Maninagar University Bill doing away with the role of governor as chancellor,but she rejected it.
Governor cleared the ministers prosecution in fishing scandal; government challenged it and lost.