The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Court vs legislature on PM's table

New Delhi, March 10: An all-party meeting boycotted by the BJP has suggested that the option of a presidential reference should be explored to 'restore the constitutional balance' in the wake of the Supreme Court order to advance the Jharkhand trust vote.

If such a reference should be made will now be decided by the government.

The recommendation to move the reference ' a request made by the government through the President to the Supreme Court to clarify the legal position on sensitive issues ' capped a day of uproar in Parliament over perceived judicial interference in the functions of the legislature.

Speaker Somnath Chatterjee defused a showdown between supporters and critics of the court order by convening the all-party meeting.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court advanced the trust vote in Jharkhand and said a notification by the governor was not required for revising the schedule of the Assembly.

In a statement issued after the two-hour meeting, Chatterjee said: 'With all respect to the Supreme Court, we wish to point out that in this case we have grave doubts and we feel greatly disturbed about the nature of the order.'

One of the suggestions made at the meeting was that a request may be made to the President under Article 143 of the Constitution through the executive. 'This showed faith in the judiciary,' he said.

The reference under Article 143 means that if the Supreme Court gives its opinion, it will not be binding on the government. The court need not always give a clarification to a presidential reference ' as happened in the Ayodhya case when a request was made.

Now the government has to decide whether a reference will be made. Pranab Mukherjee, the leader of the House, said he would discuss with the Prime Minister and come back with a decision, possibly tomorrow.

Chatterjee said the 'majority of the leaders expressed their grave concern' over the developments.

The statement said that according to the Constitution, 'no officer or member of Parliament, who is vested with the power of regulating the procedure or conduct of the business in the House or in the matter of maintenance of order in the House, shall be subject to the jurisdiction of any court in respect of the exercise by him of those powers'.

It said that following the Supreme Court order, 'the contours of the area of supremacy of the different organs, specially of the legislature, have got blurred'.

The article that provides complete immunity to the President and the governor from being answerable to any court in the matter of discharge of their duties also comes under question.

If corrective steps are not taken, 'it will totally upset the fine constitutional balance and the democratic functioning of the state as a whole', the statement added.

'The legislature should seriously consider the consequences of, what may be termed, encroachment upon their authority and jurisdiction. It is necessary that the legislature's supremacy as enshrined in the Constitution should be clearly asserted. This is a matter which should be looked into transcending all political formations and topical developments.'

The BJP walked out of the meeting. 'Only because the court has given a ruling in favour of the BJP, you are condemning it,' said Sushma Swaraj.

But three of its key allies, the Janata Dal (United), Biju Janata Dal and the Telugu Desam, attended the meeting.

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