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Jharkhand test date advanced

New Delhi, March 9: The Supreme Court today virtually took over a key function of a governor and overturned a state cabinet recommendation, advancing the Jharkhand floor test to Friday and issuing a chain of directives that makes the trial of strength a court-supervised exercise.

The court said the government cannot nominate an Anglo-Indian legislator before the trust vote ' a directive that has thrown the Congress-JMM alliance's calculations into disarray.

Nominated members have voting rights, except when finance bills are being considered. The extra vote, plus an anticipated disqualification of a rival legislator, could have tilted the balance in favour of the ruling alliance during the floor test. (See tally)

The vote will be videographed and the chief secretary and the director-general of police will have to ensure that no MLA is influenced by anyone. The Assembly will convene tomorrow for the oath-taking ceremony.

The impact of the court order is expected to be felt far beyond the borders of Jharkhand.

Rescheduling the dates recommended by the Soren cabinet and notified by governor Syed Sibtey Razi, the court said its order 'shall constitute the notice' for convening the Assembly and no separate notification would be required.

Issuing such a notification is one of the primary functions of a governor and the court order has fuelled a debate.

Justice Kuldip Singh, a retired Supreme Court judge, said: 'When the MLAs have to take oath on March 10, the Assembly is actually convened. So there is no necessity for the Supreme Court to say that its order be construed as the formal notice for convening the Assembly, which is certainly beyond the court's constitutional limits.'

The political class, not keen to be seen on the side of the governor because of the controversial manner in which he swore in Soren, declined to go on record but said in private that the order is tantamount to interference in legislative business.

According to the schedule approved by the Jharkhand governor, the trust vote was supposed to take place on March 15, the sixth day after convening the House. The long gap had fuelled allegations that the stage was being set to facilitate 'horse-trading'.

March 15 itself was a rescheduled date ' a concession made by the governor after he was summoned by the President. Initially, Soren was given time till March 21 to prove his majority.

Today's interim order was pronounced on a petition filed by former chief minister Arjun Munda and a voter, challenging the governor's invitation to Soren. The bench of Chief Justice of India R.C. Lahoti and Justices Y.K. Sabharwal and D.M. Dharmadhikari said the governor had 'played a fraud on the Constitution' if what the petition said was true.

Munda had 'made out a prima facie strong case' against Soren's swearing-in, they said.

The order included a direction that Friday's proceedings should have the one-point agenda of determining whether Soren or Munda commanded majority. This means that the governor's address and the Speaker's election, which were planned before the vote, could be held only after that.

The pro tem Speaker was to report the outcome of the floor test 'faithfully' to the court than stick to the formality of placing it before the governor, the court said. The role of the Speaker is usually crucial in a floor test as he has the power to disqualify MLAs and spring the casting vote in the event of a tie.

The NDA had been alleging that the pro tem Speaker, Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu of the Congress, was planning to disqualify Enos Ekka, who is now seen with the BJP alliance but whose party president is with the government.

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