The right call: On A.P. High Court order

The A.P. High Court order on inquiry into a ‘constitutional breakdown’ was over-reach

Updated - December 21, 2020 12:39 am IST

Published - December 21, 2020 12:02 am IST

The Supreme Court on Friday quite rightly stayed an Andhra Pradesh High Court order that sought to convene a judicial inquiry into whether there is a “constitutional breakdown” in the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government in the State. The top court’s intervention must be welcomed as it quickly halted an untenable adventure by the High Court that might have required the imposition of President’s Rule. While hearing habeas corpus petitions filed by relatives of persons remanded in judicial custody or on bail, on October 1, the High Court had suo motu summoned the State counsel to assist in deciding “whether in circumstances prevailing in the State of Andhra Pradesh , the court can record a finding that there is constitutional breakdown in the State or not”. This was clearly a case of judicial over-reach by the A.P. High Court. The question of a “constitutional breakdown” or the failure of constitutional machinery is dealt with under Article 356 of the Constitution, whose invoking comes under the prerogative of the executive and not the judiciary. In the S.R. Bommai case, a nine-member Bench of the Supreme Court construed the scope of Article 356, which also allows the imposition of President’s Rule in the States, with stringent conditions for the valid exercise of that power by the President after being presented with a proclamation by the Union Council of Ministers. These included ascertaining whether objective conditions exist which render it impossible to carry out governance in the State where the proclamation has been made and the process has to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before consideration for judicial review. But the A.P. High Court’s order seemed to have reversed the scheme of things by putting the cart before the horse in asking to ascertain if there is a “constitutional breakdown in the State”. The Chief Justice of India noted that the Court found it to be “disturbing” before staying it.

The Supreme Court’s order comes in the wake of incidents pointing to a tussle between the judiciary and the elected government in Andhra Pradesh. Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy had, in an unprecedented letter to the CJI, complained about the alleged hostile attitude of the High Court against him and his government besides making controversial allegations against a senior Supreme Court judge. This was even as the High Court ordered a CBI probe into what it termed was a social media campaign against the judges. The onus is now on the Supreme Court to put an end to the unseemly tussle between the judiciary and government in the State. Ordering an internal inquiry into the Chief Minister’s letter would be a good beginning. A clear nullification of the High Court order will also ensure that such legal adventures impinging upon the separation of powers in the State are not repeated.

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