The Supreme Court on Friday cleared the decks for Uttarakhand’s ousted chief minister Harish Rawat to prove his majority in the assembly on Tuesday, but nine disqualified rebel Congress legislators won’t be allowed to vote.
The top court said it would monitor the voting that is to take place at 11 a.m. and the entire proceedings of the house will be videographed.
The apex court bench, comprising Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh, also ordered that President’s Rule in the hill state will be kept in abeyance from 10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the house proceedings.
The order came after the central government informed the court that it was ready for the conduct of a floor test only if it is done under the Supreme Court’s supervision.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the government, said: “We will go along with the floor test as suggested by the (apex) court.”
However, on its modalities, he cited the past precedents of Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh where the floor tests had taken place on the intervention of the top court and opined that there should be an observer, preferably any of the former chief election commissioners. He also suggested the name of former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash C. Kashyap for an observer.
However, this was opposed by senior counsel Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Rawat, who contended that no outsider could be present in the assembly in the course of its proceedings.
“There should be one agenda (for the short session in the assembly). It should only be a composite floor test of strength between the two political alliances in the assembly to ascertain which of the two alliances had majority of the house,” said Rohatgi.
The court, however, made it clear that only Rawat would seek the vote of confidence.
There was divergence of views on the manner in which voting had to be conducted. While Rohatgi wanted it to be with a show of hands, Singhvi insisted that it should be through slips as the outcome of the voting would be recorded and could be even verified by the court at a later stage, if required.
Senior counsel C.A. Sundaram, appearing for the nine disqualified rebel Congress MLAs, urged the court to allow them to participate in the voting but the court was not moved.
“Unless your disqualification is stayed, you can’t vote. Why it (disqualification) was not stayed (by the high court) is immaterial. Disqualification under 10th schedule (provisions for disqualification on ground of defection) is a separate issue, it can’t be clubbed with challenge to article 356 (imposition of President’s rule),” said the bench.
Disqualified “rightly or wrongly”, the nine Congress members cannot vote in Tuesday’s floor test, it said.
Uttarakhand has been under President’s Rule since March 27 after the central government dismissed the Congress government, led by Rawat, citing a constitutional crisis in the hill state.
President’s Rule was lifted for a few hours in the state following an Uttarakhand High Court order on April 21 but reimposed by the Supreme Court a day later.
Uttarakhand was plunged into political crisis after nine Congress legislators, including former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, whom Rawat replaced, rebelled and turned to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The crisis peaked on March 18 when the assembly passed a finance bill by voice vote even as the opposition, backed by the rebels, demanded recorded voting. The BJP cried foul after Speaker Govind Kunjwal declined.
Rawat was then asked by Governor K.K. Paul to prove his majority on March 28. Two days ahead of the voting, Kunjwal disqualified the Congress rebels.
In the 70-member house whose strength has now been reduced to 61, the Congress has 27 legislators, excluding the rebels who won’t be allowed to take part in the trust vote on Tuesday. The BJP has 28 members. There are six members from other parties who have earlier voiced their support for the Congress government.