New Delhi: A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday held the actions of Arunachal Pradesh governor J.P. Rajkhowa—advancing the date of the assembly session and deciding the order of business—unconstitutional.
In doing so, a bench led by justice J.S. Khehar effectively restored the earlier government led by Nabam Tuki.
The case is an appeal against a Gauhati high court verdict on the discretionary powers of governor J.P. Rajkhowa to summon or advance a sitting of the Arunachal Pradesh assembly.
Former state assembly speaker Nabam Rebia had moved the apex court after the Itanagar bench of the high court decided to uphold the actions of the governor.
“All steps taken by the Arunachal assembly in light of the Governor’s decision are unsustainable. In view of that, the status quo as of 15 December is restored,” the court said.
The governor, on 9 December, had advanced the date of the assembly session by a month to 16 December and had listed the removal of the speaker for the day.
A five-judge Constitution bench comprising justices J.S. Khehar, Dipak Misra, Madan B. Lokur, P.C. Ghose and N.V. Ramana has heard arguments on the contours of the power and discretion of the governor under the Constitution for over a month.
On 18 February, the top court vacated its status quo order, clearing the decks for the formation of a new government in Arunachal Pradesh. In doing so, the court upheld a 7 January interim order of the Gauhati high court, which suspended the disqualification of the 14 legislators.
On 17 February, the apex court ordered that no step to revoke President’s Rule could be taken by the Centre.
Arunachal Pradesh was placed under President’s Rule on 26 January. The crisis in the Nabam Tuki-led Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh began after 21 legislators rebelled against the chief minister. Originally, the Congress had 47 members in the 60-member assembly. It is now left with 26 legislators.
The leader of the Congress dissidents’ faction, Kalikho Pul, was sworn in as chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh on 19 February, with the support of 20 rebel legislators of the Congress and 11 of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Congress party has also challenged the Centre’s imposition of President’s Rule in the state and subsequent formation of a new government. The court is likely to hear arguments on that issue now as the governor’s actions have been quashed.
Although the ruling is in the context of Arunachal Pradesh, the principles will have far reaching effects on the Constitutional role and functioning of governors in the country.