A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously quashed Arunachal Pradesh Governor J.P. Rajkhowa's decision to advance the Assembly session from January 14, 2016 to December 16, 2015, a move which triggered political unrest in the sensitive border State and culminated in the declaration of President's rule on January 26.
A five-judge Bench, led by Justice J.S. Khehar, directed the immediate imposition of status quo ante as on December 15, 2015. This means that the Supreme Court has in unequivocal terms shown the door to the BJP-propped rebel Congress government of Khaliko Pul the door.
The Bench, in three separate judgments by Justices Khehar, Dipak Misra and Madan B. Lokur, paved the way for the return of Congress-led > Nabam Tuki government to power.
The Bench, which was looking into the constitutionality of the Governor's decision to override the authority of Assembly Speaker Nabam Rebia and advance the Assembly session, was told by the Tuki government lawyers that the Arunachal Pradesh “experiment” by the NDA government at the Centre to topple State governments may prove “deadly” to the rule of law in the country and federal structure of the Constitution.
Justice Khehar, on February 22, the day the court reserved judgment on the question of the constitutionality of the Governor's decision, assured the Congress lawyers of the power of the highest judiciary to put the clock back in the sensitive border State.
But the court, however, at the time did not deem it fit to intervene with the installation of Mr. Pul as Chief Minister on February 19, following the lifting of President’s rule, leaving many with their finger crossed on the fate of this case.
‘Thrashing given to Constitution’
The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, which on Wednesday unanimously quashed Arunachal Pradesh Governor J.P. Rajkhowa’s order to advance the Assembly session, described in its 331-page judgment the happenings in Arunachal Pradesh leading to State emergency as a “thrashing given to the Constitution and a spanking to governance.”
The court pooh-poohed the Governor’s defence that his summoning the Assembly without the Cabinet’s nod could never be considered “anti-democratic.” In fact, he was only trying to bring the “democratic and legislative process” of the State into active animation, the Governor, a party in the petition, explained.
The Bench, through the majority judgment of Justices J.S. Khehar, P.C. Ghose and N.V. Ramana, reacted sharply, saying the Governor is not an “all-pervading super constitutional authority.”
The court said that a Governor is not an elected representative, but only an executive nominee whose powers flow from the aid and advice of the Cabinet. His tenure depends on the pleasure of the President. Using discretionary powers to summon or dissolve Assembly sessions without the aid and advice of the Chief Minister and his Cabinet is plainly unconstitutional.
“The Governor is not an ombudsman for the Legislature nor the Speaker’s mentor. The Governor cannot require the Speaker to discharge his functions in the manner he considers constitutionally appropriate,” Justice Khehar wrote.
The court held that what happens within the four walls of a political party is none of the Governor’s concern. “The Governor must remain aloof from any disagreement, discontent or dissension, within political parties. The activities within a political party, confirming turbulence, or unrest within its ranks, are beyond the concern of the Governor. The Governor must keep clear of any political horse-trading, and even unsavoury political manipulations,” Justice Khehar wrote.
All Governor Rajkhowa did here, the court said, was to use his constitutional authority to ostensibly favour an “invalid breakaway group” of MLAs disqualified under the Tenth Schedule.
‘No role for Governor’
“There is no justification for a Governor to be disturbed about proceedings in connection with the disqualification of MLAs under the Tenth Schedule. Because the Governor has no role therein.... Any action taken by the Governor, based on the proceedings being carried on under the Tenth Schedule, would be a constitutional impropriety,” the court held.