Congress gets reprieve as HC allows floor test in Uttarakhand (Roundup)

Dehradun/New Delhi, March 29 (IANS) Ousted Congress government in Uttarakhand got a major reprieve on Tuesday after the state high court allowed it to prove its majority in the assembly on Thursday despite President’s Rule in the hill state.

A stunned central government, which in a dramatic turn of events on Sunday dismissed the Congress government and imposed President’s Rule in the hill state citing breakdown of governance, said it was mulling to challenge the Uttarakhand court order because the validity of a presidential proclamation cannot be reviewed judicially.

Hearing a petition by sacked chief minister Harish Rawat, the Uttarakhand High Court, however, allowed President’s Rule in the hill state to continue till the floor test.

The court also said that all nine Congress rebels who were disqualified by the speaker will be allowed to take part in the vote. It said the result of the voting should be presented to the court on Friday. It ordered the Registrar General of the court to be present as an observer in the assembly.

An elated Rawat said he was confident of proving his majority in the state assembly. “We shall prove our majority on the floor on March 31,” he said, castigating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government.

He alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah wanted to “topple” his government “at any cost” even to “the extent of murdering democracy”.

Congress spokesperson and advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the court ruling followed two days of extensive arguments.

“The high court accepts the point that despite President’s Rule there is enough scope for judicial review to allow a floor test to take place,” Singhvi told the media.

He said that the charges against the Rawat government do not justify the invocation of the much contested Article 356 that empowers the central government to impose President’s Rule in a state.

“Mere horse trading allegations will not justify President’s Rule and stop floor test,” he added. Singhvi said the court has allowed the disqualified Congress legislators to take part in the voting but their vote would be taken into consideration separately.

The BJP said it was no victory for the Congress, but described as “unprecedented” the court verdict to allow floor test during President’s Rule. “To order something like this during President’s Rule is unprecedented,” BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said.

The Uttarakhand political crisis began when nine Congress legislators, including former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, whom Rawat replaced, revolted against the chief minister and turned to the BJP.

On March 18, crisis precipitated when the assembly passed the budget Appropriation Bill by voice vote even as more than half the members led by BJP in the house sought a division, which would have led to recorded voting. The rebel Congress lawmakers supported the demand. Speaker Govind Kunjwal declined the request.

Amid BJP cries that Rawat did not enjoy majority in the house of 70 members, Governor K.K. Paul asked the government to prove its majority on Monday. The Congress rebel lawmakers were disqualified on Saturday and the BJP-led central government imposed President’s Rule a day later.

In the 70-member assembly, the Congress has 36 legislators, including the nine rebels. The BJP has 28. The other six from smaller parties are said to support the Congress.

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