The Supreme Court on Friday started examining constitutional schemes on the scope of discretionary powers of the governor, amid continuing month-long impasse over Nabam Tuki-led Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh.
The high-voltage hearing began with the submissions of senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who listed out legal questions, including the governor’s power to convene assembly session without aid and advice of the government, for adjudication by a five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice JS Khehar.
Sibal represents Nabam Rebia who has purportedly been removed from the speaker’s post by rebel Congress and BJP MLAs in an assembly session at a community hall in Itanagar on December 16.
It has also been alleged that the governor had advanced the assembly sitting from January 14 to December 16 without the aid and advice of the chief minister and his council of ministers.
“Whether the governor has any discretionary power to summon the House without the aid and advice of the chief minister and his council of ministers,” Sibal asked the bench that also comprised Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Madan B Lokur, Justice PC Ghose and Justice NV Ramana.
“What are the contours of powers of the governor in sending messages to the House and, in particular, the power of the governor in dealing with the constitution of the House,” he said, adding that the governor cannot change the party-wise position of lawmakers in the assembly.
The court, during the hearing, referred to constitutional provisions and asked questions on discretionary powers of the governor and said he can always take certain decisions which can be questioned only in the court of law and cannot be stopped and objected to by the state government.
The bench said “there may be some grey areas where the governor can always say that it is his discretion which can be challenged in judicial review only.”
Sibal also said that the governor, who is neither the officer of the assembly nor its member, cannot convene a session of the House on his own.
Besides Sibal who also outlined some other questions to be considered by the bench, senior advocates like FS Nariman, Rajeev Dhawan and Vikek Tankha are representing Rebia and others.
A battery of senior lawyers including Harish Salve, Ashok Desai, L Nageshwar Rao and Vikas Singh are representing the the other side which also includes the governor and deputy speaker.
There have been simultaneous developments in the political crisis in Arunachal Pradesh as the high court, on January 13, vacated its interim stay on calling the assembly and gave a free hand to the governor to summon it and this had given hope to the rebel Congress and BJP MLAs to oust the Nabam Tuki’s Congress government.
A day after, the apex court ordered that there will not be any assembly session till January 18 as it was seized with the matters. Then came the order by which the two-judge bench headed by Justice Khehar referred to the Constitution bench the petitions arising out of certain orders passed by the Gauhati high court in the ongoing political battle in the state.
It said the pleas pertained to constitutional schemes on the rights of the Governor, the speaker and the deputy speaker and hence needed to be decided by a larger bench.
Congress party, which has 47 MLAs seats in the 60-member assembly, suffered a jolt when 21 of its lawmakers rebelled. Eleven BJP MLAs backed the rebels in the bid to upstage the government.
Later, 14 rebel Congress MLAs were disqualified. The governor then called assembly session on December 16 in which deputy speaker revoked disqualification of 14 rebel Congress MLAs and removed Rebia from the post of speaker.
This sitting was held in a community hall in Itanagar. Various decisions of the governor and the deputy speaker were challenged by Rebia in Gauhati high court which passed an interim order keeping in abeyance the decisions of governor and deputy speaker till February 1.