President’s Rule – Uttarakhand

Background:
The political crisis in Uttarakhand started when nine Congress MLAs, along with 27 BJP legislators, met Governor K. K. Paul at the Raj Bhavan in Dehradun, and sought the dismissal of the Congress government led by Chief Minister Harish Rawat. Following which Mr. Rawat met the Governor and maintained that he enjoyed a majority in the 71-seat Uttarakhand Assembly. Governor K.K. Paul allowed Mr. Rawat to prove his majority in Assembly. However, before he could proceed further, President’s rule was imposed in the state.
What the Single Judge Bench order says?
The Single Judge Bench had ordered a floor test and had also allowed disqualified MLAs to take part in it. In effect, the order temporarily revived the Assembly for one day for the purpose of conducting the trust vote, and also appeared to be a partial stay on the Proclamation imposing President’s rule.
What the division bench said?
A Division Bench of Uttarakhand High Court has kept the previous order in abeyance till April 6. This decision is based special appeals filed by the Centre and opposition parties in Uttarakhand over ambiguities in the single judge bench order of the court where Mr.Rawat was permitted a floor test.
Why can’t floor test be taken now?
According to the centre, after the imposition of President’s Rule, the State legislature cannot function and all its functions can only be discharged by or under the authority of Parliament. Also, voting is not permitted under President’s rule.
How centre defends the imposition of President’s rule?
The Centre is of the view that continuance of the Rawat government was “immoral and unconstitutional” when the Speaker declared the Appropriation Bill “passed” in controversial circumstances.
What speaker did wrong?
During passing of appropriation bill he allowed voice vote although BJP and rebel congress MLAs (27+9) asked for division i.e. vote using Automatic Vote Recording Equipment. Also voice vote is based on conviction that government in power holds majority in the house but here the case was different as defeat of appropriation bill would have called for government to prove its majority in the floor of the house.
Is the Centre right in doing so?
One does not dispute the fact that there may have been certain procedural issues arising from the passing of the Appropriations Bill in the State, but it has been constitutional convention for many years that the decision of the Speaker with regards to a procedural decision is often taken as final. Even so, if the Speaker’s decision went against established constitutional principles, there are mechanisms in place to remove the speaker.
  • The power of the Central government under Article 356 is a most extreme power as it enables it to dismiss a Sate Government and place the Assembly in suspended animation or dismiss the enter Assembly if need be and call for fresh elections.
  • However, according to some experts, there was no such situation brewing in Uttarakhand. There are constitutional mechanisms in place to remedy this situation, and one of them is a no-confidence motion. If the Chief Minster had lost the vote, the Governor had a myriad of options at his disposal, including dissolving the House and call for fresh elections.
What this proclamation does, however, is that it cuts short extensive constitutional machinery, designed specifically to deal with situations such as this and perhaps, at most, delay an inevitable early election. Seldom have state governments been dismissed because of procedural decisions by a Speaker concerning a bill being brought to the floor for a vote, even seldom still before a scheduled No-Confidence vote.
Conclusion:
Though the Centre’s position might be constitutionally correct, the single Judge Bench order apparently adheres to the letter and spirit of the SR Bommai judgment, which allows the court to evaluate the material on the basis of which the President’s decision was taken. In this particular case, according the Bommai judgment, the government’s majority can only be tested on the floor of the house.