New Delhi: In a major setback to the Centre, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the restoration of ousted Chief Minister Nabam Tuki in Arunachal Pradesh and quashed Governor J.P. Rajkhowa’s decision to advance the assembly session by a month. The court said the Governor “cannot interfere in the activities of the Assembly”.
In a unanimous verdict, by Justices Jagdish Singh Khehar, Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and N.V. Ramana in the main judgment and by Justices Dipak Misra and Madan B. Lokur in their respective concurring judgments directed the restoration of the status quo ante as it existed on December 15, 2015, effectively bringing back Tuki as Chief Minister.
The constitution bench quashed the Governor Rajkhowa’s December 9, 2015 direction to advance the assembly session from January 14 to December 16, and the message to the State assembly to take up the resolution for removal of Speaker Nebam Rabia as first item of the agenda.
The bench also set aside all the steps and decisions taken by the State assembly in pursuance to the Governor’s direction and message.
Holding that Governor can’t act as an “ombudsman”, Justice Khehar pronouncing the main judgment said, “The State Legislature, does not function under the Governor. In sum and substance, the Governor just cannot act as the Ombudsman of the State Legislature.”
“The Governor cannot a interfere in the activities of the Assembly, for the reason that the Chief Minister, or the entire Council of Ministers, or an individual Minister in the Cabinet, or for that matter even an individual MLA, are not functioning in consonance with the provisions of the Constitution, or in the best interest of the State,” said the main judgment pointing out that the Governor has no role, in the disqualification of members of the assembly as it solely rests with the Speaker.
Addressing the Governor’s message to the State assembly asking it to take up the resolution for removal of the Speaker as first item of the agenda, the judgment said that he was neither the “conscience keeper of the State assembly” nor could he “act as a marshal”.
“The Governor is not the conscience keeper of the Legislative Assembly, in the matter of removal of the Speaker. He does not participate in any executive or legislative responsibility, as a marshal. He has no such role assigned to him, whereby he can assume the position of advising and guiding the Legislative Assembly, on the question of removal of the Speaker (or Deputy Speaker). Or to require the Legislative Assembly to follow a particular course,” the judgment said.
The court verdict came on plea by the Speaker Nabam Rabia contesting the Governor’s direction of December 9 advancing the assembly session and the message that his removal as Speaker be taken as the first item of the agenda.
Referring to the Article 163(2) of the Constitution, the judgment said that there is “no room for any doubt, that the Governor cannot be seen to have such powers and functions, as would assign to him a dominating position, over the State executive and the State legislature”.
“We are of the considered view, that in so far as the exercise of discretionary powers vested with the Governor is concerned, the same is limited to situations, wherein a constitutional provision expressly so provides, that the Governor should act in his own discretion,” the judgment said.
Holding that there was no “justification for a Governor to be disturbed” over the proceedings for disqualification of MLAs, the court said, “The Governor could not in support of the protests and assertions of an invalid breakaway group, adopt a constitutional course, recourse whereof could be taken only in case of a constitutional crisis”.
Addressing the question whether Deputy Speaker of the State assembly could have overturned the disqualification of 14 Congress lawmakers by Speaker Nabam Rabia, Justice Lokur in his concurring judgment said, “There is absolutely no question of the Deputy Speaker setting aside the order of the Speaker passed under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.”
On December 16, Deputy Speaker Tenzing Norbu Thongdok had ordered the removal of the Speaker, pursuant to the resolution adopted by the Assembly.
Justice Lokur said that the decision of the Speaker disqualifying a lawmaker can only be challenged before the court and even the Speaker himself can’t revisit or review his own decision disqualifying a lawmaker.
The Central government imposed President’s rule in the state on January 26. The leader of the Congress dissidents’ faction, Kalikho Pul, was sworn in as Chief Minister on February 19.