The Uttarakhand high court ordered on Wednesday a stay on a floor test of the ousted Congress government but questioned the Centre’s haste in imposing President’s Rule, indicating the state’s political uncertainty will continue.
A two-judge division bench, comprising chief justice K M Joseph and justice V K Bist, asked the Centre why it clamped President’s Rule when the governor had set a date for the floor test.
The bench stayed a decision by a single-judge bench a day before that allowed deposed chief minister Harish Rawat to seek a trust vote on Thursday.
The earlier order also allowed nine rebel Congress MLAs – who switched their support to the BJP – to vote.
The Centre and the Congress agreed to file submissions to the court by next Tuesday. The matter will be next heard on April 6.
“A floor test is the best test and correct arena,” the court told attorney general Mukul Rohatgi when he argued that the Centre should be given a chance to explain.
Rohatgi, appearing on behalf of the Centre, said the single-judge bench of justice UC Dhyani had ended up staying President’s Rule by allowing the floor test though the judge hadn’t spelt out his stand explicitly.
India’s top legal officer also questioned the disqualification of nine rebel Congress legislators by speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal’s after President’s Rule was imposed.
The rebels have challenged their disqualification in the high court and the matter will be heard next on April 1.
“By consent order, the Honourable division bench stayed the order of single judge,” said advocate and BJP leader Nalin Kohli, who was part of the team representing the Centre.
Appearing for the Congress, advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi noted that the rebels were suspended on March 27 under the anti-defection law after the speaker gave them a week to explain their position.
Three hours later, the central government imposed President’s Rule, Singhvi said, accusing the NDA regime of misusing Article 356.
“The high court judgment has taken the process of justice one step forwards and jolted the BJP’s nefarious design to dismiss the democratically elected government in the state,” said state Congress vice-president Shankarchand Ramola.
The Centre’s controversial move has galvanised most of the Opposition in Parliament and the government is facing a stiff challenge to get the promulgation under Article 356 ratified in the Rajya Sabha, where it is in a minority.
The BJP’s ally Shiv Sena also backed the Congress, accusing the Centre of “strangling democracy” in an editorial in its mouthpiece Saamana.
“Rawat had time to prove his majority till March 28. What was the hurry in imposing President’s Rule a day before this was to happen? After the sting operation, questions of propriety were raised and democracy was strangulated in the name of propriety,” the editorial said.
The political crisis erupted in Uttarakhand on March 18 when nine Congress MLAs backed by BJP demanded a division of votes during the discussion on the appropriation bill.
The governor asked Rawat to prove majority on the floor of the assembly on March 28 but days before the vote, a sting operation surfaced that purportedly showed the CM offering money to rebels.
Within hours, the speaker disqualified the nine rebels under the anti-defection law.
A day before the scheduled trust vote, the Centre imposed President’s Rule in the state last Sunday, citing constitutional breakdown.
(with PTI inputs)