The Supreme Court on 10 January questioned Governor J.P. Rajkhowa’s use of his “constitutional discretion” to advance the sixth session of the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly by over a month, asking whether it was backed by sound constitutional principles or based on a mere whim.
Advancing the session from its scheduled date of January 14, 2016 to December 16, 2015 in order to remove Speaker Nebam Rebia triggered the entire political crisis leading to the imposition of President’s Rule on January 26.
“You can use constitutional discretion only if it is based on and only on a constitutional principle… What was the constitutional principle here? Does advancing the Assembly session come under your discretionary powers?” a five-judge Constitution Bench led by Justice J.S. Khehar repeatedly asked senior advocate T.R. Andhyarujina, appearing for Mr. Rajkhowa.
The Bench’s questions pertained to the order issued by Mr. Rajkhowa on December 9, 2015 to advance the Assembly session without consulting Chief Minister Nabam Tuki and his Council of Ministers under Article 174 (1) of the Constitution.
The Governor was acting on resolutions sent to him by “majority” rebel Congress MLAs and Opposition lawmakers for the removal of the Speaker. They claimed that the Tuki government was in minority.
Instead of calling a floor test, the Governor invoked Article 174 (1) of the Constitution and ordered the session to be advanced for “facilitating the House to expeditiously consider resolutions for removal of Speaker.” In the order, the Governor claimed complete discretion.
The Supreme Court also questioned the constitutional legitimacy of Arunachal Pradesh Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa’s direction that there should not be any tinkering with the party position in the state assembly, asking how could he clip the constitutional powers of the speaker to disqualify lawmakers on grounds of defection.
“Is it not an order of restraint on the speaker not to act under schedule 10 of the constitution (which provides for disqualification of lawmakers on grounds of defection). Could the governor issue a direction to the speaker clipping his powers to act under schedule 10,” asked the constitution bench of Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Madan B Lokur, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and Justice NV Ramana.
As Andhyarijuna took the court through the sequence of political events leading to the imposition of president’s rule, the bench, holding said that a “constitutional discretion has to be based on constitutional principle”, asking him: “What was the constitutional principle that was invoked by the governor in preponing the assembly session and sending the message. What constitutional objective the governor was seeking to achieve?”
Clause (C) of the constitution’s article 179 says that no resolution for the removal of speaker or deputy speaker of an assembly “shall be moved unless at least fourteen days’ notice has been given of the intention to move the resolution”.
Timeline of Arunachal crisis
• November 2011: Nabam Tuki wins the election and becomes Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh. His brother Nebum Rebhia is appointed Speaker
• December 2014: Health and Family welfare minister Kalikho Pul is dropped from the government in a cabinet reshuffle
• April 2015: Kalikho Pul charges the government with financial mismanagement. He is expelled from the Congress party on charges of anti-party activity.
• May 2015 to October 2015: Kalikho Pul meets with BJP leaders in Arunachal. More Congress MLAs join the group of rebels including the Deputy Speaker
• November, 2015: A notice for resolution for removal of the Deputy Speaker of the state Assembly is submitted by the MLAs of Congress
• November, 2015: BJP MLAs issued a notice for resolution for removal of the Speaker of the State Assembly
• December, 2015: The Governor, without consulting the Chief Minister and his Council of Ministers, issues an order under Article 174(1) of the Constitution of India advancing the 6th Session of the State Assembly to December 16, 2015 though the session was to commence from January 14, 2016.
• The Governor also sends a message under Article 175(2) of the Constitution of India inter-alia fixing the “resolution for removal of the Speaker” as the 1st item of the agenda for the State Assembly on its 1st sitting in its 6th Session
• December, 2015: Pul is allegedly heard making derogatory remarks about Nyishi tribe and also seeking money from a businessman to bring in a BJP government in the state
• December 2015: A parallel sitting of the assembly is held in a building near the assembly (which is locked by the Tuki government) attended by 33 MLAs, removing the Speaker, and appointing another speaker. Kalikho Pul is named the new Chief Minister.
• December 2015: The Congress petitions the Guwahati High Court which puts the matter on hold till February, 2016.
• January, 2016: State leaders from the Congress come to Delhi to meet the party high command. The party says it has confidence in Tuki’s leadership
• January 2016: President’s Rule is imposed in Arunachal Pradesh