The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bihar polls under litigation cloud

New Delhi, July 25: Central-ruled Bihar may not see fresh elections in a hurry.

The Supreme Court today overruled objections of the central government to say that several petitioners who had challenged the dissolution of the Assembly last May “have made out a case” for hearing.

In their brief order, Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justices P.K. Balasubramanyan and C.K. Thakker also asked the petitioners to file “appropriate” applications for a restraining directive to the Election Commission before it “ignited” the poll process.

The court, which observed how the documents recommending dissolution were sent to Moscow where President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam signed on the dotted line, issued notices to the Centre, Governor Buta Singh and the Bihar government and listed the matter for hearing after four weeks.

Rameswar Prasad Chaurasia, Kishore Kumar Munna, Rampravesh Rai and Anil Kumar ' all MLAs of the dissolved Assembly ' had filed petitions challenging the presidential proclamation dissolving the House. They also pleaded that the “single largest party/grouping under Nitish Kumar” be called to “try and form” the government on the basis of an earlier judgment of the apex court.

Former attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee, who appeared for the four National Democratic Alliance MLAs, said dissolution should be recommended after all efforts to form a stable government fail. But the governor, he contended, recommended dissolution on mere conjectures and surmises about “horse-trading of MLAs”.

The governor, it was argued, took the step after coming to know that the NDA was in a position to stake claim to form the government.

Another petitioner, advocate Viplav Sharma, said the poll panel should be first prevented from issuing any notification as no court can “stop the process” after elections are announced.

Senior counsel Gopal Subramanian, who appeared for the Centre, opposed “any interim order” unless the “merits or demerits” of the maintainability of the petitions was decided. But the judges gave the petitioner “liberty” to file an application to restrain the poll panel. The order means the apex court might, for the first time, stop the commission, a constitutional body, from announcing elections.

The judges repeatedly asked attorney-general Milon Banerjee and Subramanian about the “materials” placed before the President.

Banerjee said the governor had been sending reports to the Centre expressing grave apprehension about the danger of “horse-trading” in the prevailing circumstances. “There cannot be a judicially manageable standard for dissolution of the Assembly when MLAs were being kept in confinement and the danger of horse-trading lurks,” he said.

The bench asked if the governor had given any opportunity for staking claim. “Where is the documentary proof of that'” the judges asked.

The court also referred to the “speed” with which the decision to dissolve the House was taken and the presidential assent obtained. It perused the file detailing the May 22 cabinet meeting at 11 pm, transmission of the notification and other documents to the President’s secretariat in Delhi and transmission of the documents to the President at 1.34 or 1.54 am to Moscow and observed that it was a “peculiar” situation.

When Subramanian said the President gave his assent to the cabinet decision at “0330 hours local time”, the bench said “this case calls for hearing”.

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