New Delhi, Oct. 7: The Supreme Court today struck down dissolution of the Bihar Assembly, inflicting the biggest embarrassment on the Manmohan Singh government in its 17-month tenure.
It said the dissolution by governor Buta Singh under Article 356 was “unconstitutional”, but declined to stay the elections which start later this month, explaining that, given the “circumstances”, restoring the Assembly was not an option.
Amid loud demands for Buta’s dismissal and pressure from the government and the Congress on him to quit on his own, the Opposition also attacked Manmohan Singh whose cabinet accepted the governor’s recommendation.
The Prime Minister met the President after the verdict and headed to Chandigarh for a Congress conclave.
BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said: “The Prime Minister’s image is getting dented and his veneer of political correctness is wearing away.”
Home minister Shivraj Patil would only say: “We have not received the copy of the entire verdict and cannot comment on it.”
Laloo Prasad Yadav, who is part of the government at the Centre and is the BJP-led alliance’s rival in Bihar, read the judgment as it suited him. “It is our victory as the apex court has not ordered the revival of the dissolved Assembly and said the elections will be held on schedule.”
An order holding the dissolution unconstitutional would have “automatically” revived the Assembly and “annulled the elections”, as the judges had repeatedly observed during the two-week hearings.
Today, however, the five-judge bench said: “Despite unconstitutionality of the impugned proclamation (dissolving the Assembly), but having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case, the present is not a case where in exercise of discretionary jurisdiction the status quo ante deserves to be ordered to restore the legislative Assembly.”
The two-paragraph interim order simply said: “The proclamation dated 23rd May 2005 dissolving the legislative Assembly of the state of Bihar is unconstitutional.
“Pronouncement of judgment with detailed reasons is likely to take some time and, therefore, at this stage, we are pronouncing this brief order.”
This indicates that in the final judgment the court will say why, despite outlawing the dissolution, the elections were not annulled.
Justices Y.K. Sabharwal, K.G. Balakrishnan, B.N. Agrawal, Ashok Bhan and Arijit Passayat also made it clear that there was a “dissenting” judgment. That would also be revealed with the main judgment later.
The other questions referred to the Constitution bench about summoning the governor to answer the query of a court of law about his commissions and omissions, his personal and legal mala fide and stopping of polls in cases of “unconstitutional” dissolution will also be discussed in that judgment.
Supreme Court lawyer Viplav Sharma, who is one of the petitioners who had challenged the dissolution, said the judgment in the landmark S.R. Bommai case “is clear about remedial steps in such situations” as it had suggested “stopping of fresh elections”.
The order came on three petitions, one by four NDA members of the dissolved Assembly and the other two by an Independent legislator and Sharma.