The political drama in Uttarakhand acquired a new turn today with the Division Bench of High Court staying till April 7 the floor test in the Assembly that was slated for tomorrow.
The two-judge bench gave the relief to the Centre and Uttarkhand, now under central rule, which had challenged the order of the single judge U C Dhyani, who had directed a floor test tomorrow.
The bench headed by Chief Justice K M Joseph posted the matter for April 6 for final hearing on the writ petition filed by ousted Chief Minister Harish Rawat challenging the imposition of President’s Rule in the state.
“In view of the consent of the parties that the writ petition be posted to 06-04-2016 for being disposed of finally, we direct that the order, which is impugned in these appeals will be kept in abeyance till 07-04-2016,” said the bench, also comprising Justice V K Bist, in a brief order
The order came after Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, strongly opposed yesterday’s order saying courts cannot interfere with the Presidential proclamation.
“How can a floor test be ordered when a Presidential proclamation is in force and the Assembly is in suspended animation,” Rohatgi said.
He questioned for whom the floor test would be conducted since there is no government. He also asked who would be convening the session of Assembly which was in suspended animation.
The court asked AG what was the hurry for imposition of President’s rule on March 27 as a floor test was scheduled for the next day and that would have been the best way to decide majority.
Justifying the Centre’s action, the AG argued that “unconstitutional” developments had taken place in the Assembly on March 18 and horse-trading was underway.
According to the Centre, there was “breakdown of Constitutional machinery” when on March 18 the Appropriation Bill was declared as passed despite 35 out of 67 voting MLAs opposing it.
The AG argued that the Centre should be given a chance to explain its position on why the President’s rule was imposed.
Rohatgi wondered how there could be two governments in place if the single-judge order was to be enforced.
The Bench noted that the AG and senior advocate Abishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for Rawat, agreed that the writ petition which has given rise to these appeals may be “withdrawn to this Bench” and be finally disposed of.
The AG said the Centre’s counter affidavit, along with that of Centrally-ruled Uttarakhand, would be filed by April 4. The court gave 24 hours to petitioner Rawat to file a rejoinder affidavit to counter affidavits.
Earlier, the trust vote was slated for March 28 but the Centre imposed President’s Rule on March 27, citing “breakdown of Constitutional machinery” in the state.
This was challenged by Rawat before the single judge U C Dhyani of the High Court.
The single judge, while ordering the floor test on March 31, had also allowed nine disqualified rebel Congress MLAs to participate in the voting.
Congress was unhappy and had planned to challenge this aspect of the order.
Ordering the floor test yesterday, Justice Dhyani had observed that invoking of Article 356 of the Constitution by the Centre was a “colourable exercise of power”.
“Democratically-elected Houses should not be demolished in such a fashion. Floor test is the only test to prove the majority,” he had said even though he ruled out staying the effect of the proclamation under Article 356 at this stage.
Advocate Nalin Kohli, who was part of the lawyers’ team representing the Centre, said the Centre will file its counter before the Division Bench on April 4 for which the other side will file its reply the next day.
Meanwhile, Justice Dhyani put off hearing on a plea by rebel Congress MLAs challenging their disqualification by Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal after President’s Rule was imposed.
“The order puts a stay on floor test till April 7. The respondent (Harish Rawat) has been given time till April 4 for filing affidavits and rejoinders. Another 24 hours have been given to the petitioners for the same purpose. The matter will then be heard on April 6,” Supreme Court lawyer Dinesh Dwivedi told reporters. Convening an assembly in suspended animation under President’s rule to give chance to an ousted government to prove a majority was like running two governments simultaneously, the AG said.
Appearing on behalf of Rawat, Singhvi confined his argument to challenging the justification of allowing disqualified rebel congress MLAs to vote during floor test. Hailing the order of the Bench, BJP Vice President in-charge of its Uttarakhand unit Shyam Jaju said it would lead to some clarity on the issue