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President’s rule to continue in Uttarakhand

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi and BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli leave after the hearing on President's Rule in Uttarakhand, at the Supreme Court in New Delhi. File photo

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi and BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli leave after the hearing on President's Rule in Uttarakhand, at the Supreme Court in New Delhi. File photo   | Photo Credit: PTI

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A floor test on April 29, ordered by the High Court, will not take place, as Supreme Court extends its stay on the quashing of Central rule.

The State emergency continued in Uttarakhand as the apex court decided to maintain status quo and not implement the Uttarakhand High Court judgment of April 21, which found the declaration of President's rule in the State on March 27 as unconstitutional.

The Bench scheduled the case for hearing on May 3 and said its judgment would be pronounced before summer vacations, starting from May 16. This means that the floor test ordered by the High Court to be held on April 29 would not take place.

During the hearing, the Bench questioned Governor K.K. Paul's authority to seek video and audio recording of the March 18 Assembly proceedings on the passing of the Money Bill.

“Is it within the Governor's jurisdiction to ask for division of votes on the Money Bill and for video and audio of the Assembly proceedings? The Speaker is the master of the House and is it not his prerogative to decide whether there should be video or audio recording of the proceedings of the House?” the Bench asked the Centre.

Questions on Money Bill

How can the Union Cabinet sitting in New Delhi determine that a Money Bill was not validly passed in the Uttarakhand State Assembly and pave the way for imposing President's rule in the State, the Supreme Court asked the Centre on Wednesday.

“The million dollar question is when the Assembly Speaker said the Money Bill was passed on March 18, how did you say it was not?” Justice Dipak Misra asked the Centre.

The Centre, represented by Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, insisted that the non-passage of the Money Bill would have seen the State slip into chaos and the President could not have let that happen.

“But the Assembly records show that Money Bill was passed on March 18. If so, who is the authority to question the Speaker? Nobody can question him,” Justice Shiva Kirti Singh, also on the two-judge Bench, observed.

Mr. Rohatgi submitted that the Speaker had refused a division of votes on the Money Bill despite a request from the “majority” 35 MLAs (26 BJP MLAs and nine Congress rebels) in the House on March 18. This had proved that the Rawat government was already a “minority” from that day. Mr. Rohatgi said that as far as the Centre was concerned the real floor test happened on March 18 itself and there was no need for a further no-confidence motion.

“Whether 28 or 35 MLAs is a matter inside the House. If the government was in minority as you claim, what follows is a floor test,” Justice Misra observed.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing former State Chief Minister Harish Rawat, said it was the first time in India that a proclamation of emergency had hit a “double whammy”.

“The emergency clouded the authority of the Speaker as well as prevented the holding of the floor test on March 28... the proclamation came hardly 36 hours before the floor test was to be held,” Mr, Singhvi submitted.

'Is sting operation enough for President's Rule?'

The Bench further asked whether a sting operation allegedly showing Mr. Rawat horse-trading could actually be a ground for emergency in the State.

To this, Mr. Rohatgi replied if the President is supposed to keep mum when a State Chief Minister is shown on TV openly horse-trading.

“A sting operation can be socially, idealistically and morally condemned. But can you take that as a factor for imposing President's rule? Both horsetrading and airing of sting operation create a dent in democracy. That is why we said that a floor test is the ultimate test... don't get into these sting operations,” Justice Misra told the Centre.

The President's rule ends on May 27, after a period of two months. In case the Supreme Court holds the proclamation unconstitutional by May 13 – the last working day of the apex cort before summer holidays start - the High Court judgment would come back to life.

However, if the court holds the President's rule valid, the proclamation would be ratified by both Houses of the Parliament before May 27. If ratified, it would be the prerogative of the State Governor and not the courts to call for a floor test in the State Assembly.

The Bench suggested that the floor test could even be conducted immediately after temporarily lifting the President's rule for three days. The results of the floor test could be submitted in court, the Bench proposed.

But this proposal was shot down by Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, for the Centre, who said the Supreme Court should first decide the validity of the proclamation before the holding of a floor test.

“There cannot be a President's rule and a floor test at the same time,” Mr. Rohatgi said.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 8:12:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/uttarakhand-supreme-court-frames-seven-questions-to-centre/article8528152.ece

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