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The Big Picture – Developments in Arunachal Pradesh: Row over Governor’s role

The Big Picture – Developments in Arunachal Pradesh: Row over Governor’s role



Arunachal Pradesh is headed for a constitutional crisis, with the governor’s office accused of favouring the Congress’s rebel MLAs and the BJP in the state. According to experts, Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa’s decision to advance the winter session of the assembly by a month and issue directions to vote on a resolution calling for the removal of the speaker at the first sitting of the House, with the deputy speaker in the chair, suggests a clear case of gubernatorial overreach.

Background: What happened?

Controversy erupted in the state when Governor Rajkhowa advanced the winter session of the assembly to December 16 from January 14, 2016 which evoked strong protest from the Congress-led state government and also several mass-based organisations. The governor called the session with directives to Deputy Speaker T Norbu Thongdok to preside over it and take up the impeachment motion notice served by 11 BJP and two Independent MLAs against Speaker Nabam Rebia. Previously, the Speaker in an order had disqualified 14 rebel MLAs from the House on the clause of anti-defection.

Present situation:

The Speaker of the state assembly had approached the Gauhati High Court with a writ petition and following which the court stayed till February 1 the Governor’s order to advance the Assembly session, describing the development in Arunachal Pradesh as disturbing.

How Governor defends himself?

The Governor defends himself by saying that he has power to summon the House under Article 174 (Clause 1) of the Constitution and he has the power to summon the House as and when he deems fit.

Supreme Court’s observations in such cases:

Article 175 does empower the Governor to address and send messages to the House or Houses (in states with a Legislative Council). The Governor can send messages “whether with respect to a Bill then pending in the Legislature or otherwise”, and the House “shall with all convenient despatch consider any matter required by the message to be taken into consideration”. However, as held by the Supreme Court in many cases, the power of the Governor is not absolute. He is bound to act on the advice of the state cabinet.

In Union of India vs Valluri Basavaiah Chaudhary (1979), a Constitution bench held that the governor is a “constitutional head of the state executive, and has, therefore to act on the advice of the council of ministers”. The governor has the power to summon, prorogue and dissolve the assembly under Article 174, but here again, the apex court has said that he is bound by the advice of the council of ministers.

Observations made by the Gauhati High Court:

  • The Gauhati High Court has suspended the governor’s directive until February 1. The court has observed that the governor, as the constitutional head of the state, is bound to act on the advice of the council of ministers.
  • The high court has come down heavily on Arunachal Pradesh governor JP Rajkhowa saying his action of preponing the Assembly session on the demand of opposition MLAs “taints” the decision and renders it “unworthy of the state’s constitutional head”.
  • The court has also observed that the power of the Governor to send message to the House was with respect to a pending bill in the House and this power under Article 175(2) cannot be utilised to send message on a pending resolution for removal of the Speaker and “hence this appears to be an act of exceeding the jurisdiction.”

Arunachal Pradesh has a legislative assembly of 60 members, and in the last Assembly election in 2014, the Congress emerged with an absolute majority, having bagged 42 seats. The party was followed by the BJP with 11 seats and People’s Party of Arunachal, PPA, with 5. Two independents also returned. The PPA subsequently merged with the ruling Congress, leaving the latter with a comfortable 46 members.