Major blow for BJP government as 5-judge bench overturns governor's orders; current CM Kalikho Pul to file a review petition.
In what is yet another landmark judgment, the Supreme Court on Wednesday restored the Nabam Tuki-led Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh and quashed Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa's decision issued in December 2015 to advance the state Assembly session by a month.
In a major blow to the Narendra Modi government, a 5-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously restored the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh and quashed the Governor’s orders which had advanced the session of Arunachal’s legislative assembly from January 14 to December 16 last year. The apex court also quashed all of the directions of the Governorthat had precipitated the constitutional crisis in the northeastern border state.
The Modi government had in December recommended that President’s rule be imposed in the state.
The order is unprecedented since it has called for restoring a government even after a subsequent government has taken the oath of office. Earlier this year, first the Nainital High Court and then the Supreme Court had quashed central rule in Uttarakhand and paved the way for the Harish Rawat-government to be reinstated.
Today's judgment by Justice J S Khehar, joined by Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice N V Ramana, was severely critical of the Arunachal Governor. It said that it wasn’t within the realm of the Governor to embroil himself in a political thicket.
In the wake of the Uttarakhand order, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, himself a noted constitutional lawyer, said in Parliament that "step by step, brick by brick, the edifice of India’s legislature is being destroyed due to judicial activism.” At a press conference a few days later, Jaitley advised the judiciary that it needed to blend activism with restrain and not interfere in the sphere of executive.
The order on Arunachal is yet another development that would add to the Modi government’s frictional relationship with the judiciary in its term so far. In October 2015, the Supreme Court struck down a law pushed by the Modi government – and enacted by Parliament – that was aimed at taking away the power of judges appointing judges and investing it instead in the NationalJudicial Appointments Commission.
Earlier, the Modi government had rejected then Chief Justice R M Lodha’s recommendation as the head of the collegium that selected judges in the higher judiciary to appoint former solicitor general and reputed lawyer Gopal Subramanium as a Supreme Court justice. An upset Subramanium withdrew his candidature but Lodha cautioned that the government shouldn’t interfere in the independence of the judiciary.
Most recently, Chief Justice T S Thakur, in an emotional outburst at a function on April 24, criticised the current and previous governments for pointing an accusatory finger at the judiciary for the nearly 3.3 crore pending cases but doing little to improve the judge-population ratio and increasing the number of courts.
Today’s order on Arunachal by the 5-judge bench was welcomed by opposition parties. Reinstated Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam Tukitermed the order historic and said democracy has been protected. Current CM Kalikho Pul said he will file a review petition.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi said "Those who had trampled upon constitutional propriety and democratic norms have been defeated today.” She hoped the decision would deter the government from further misuse of power. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the order was a tight slap on the "dictatorial Modi government”.
In its defence, BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said the political crisis in the state was an outcome of Congress' internal fight. "The Congress government was reduced to minority after a faction within the party rebelled. We only supported the faction's bid for power from the outside.” The party said that it would respond to the apex court's judgment after studying its order in detail and claimed the verdict was not a setback.
The events in Arunachal started on December 9 last year when a group of rebel Congress MLAs approached Governor J P Rajkhowa seeking to impeach Speaker Nabam Rebia. They said that the Speaker was trying to get them disqualified from the Assembly. The Governor responded by calling an emergency session on December 16 to take up the impeachment motion. Amidst Congress protests, the Centre imposed President’s Rule in the state. In the special session attended by 20 rebel Congress MLAs, 11 BJP MLAs and 2 Independents at a community hall, the impeachment motion was passed and Kalikho Pul became the new chief minister.