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"This is how one can fulfill the goal of cooperative federalism, while upholding constitutional supremacy", the Court said, while allowing appeals against a single judge's 2019 ruling against Bedi.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice AP Sahi and Subramonium Prasad ultimately found that the Single judge had erred in holding that the legislative body of the Union Territory of Puducherry enjoys similar powers to that of a “State”.
The judges observed that, "In our opinion, to foster an opinion that the Legislature of a Union Territory is at par with that of a State Legislature is basically incorrect."
The Court proceeded to observe that when the Constitution has not accorded a status akin to a State for Puducherry, the Single judge ought not to have done so in his ruling. The Bench observed,
"For the time being, there is no such law which may equate or put them at par, except for the areas for which the Constitution itself provides that the legislatures of the Union Territories shall be empowered to discharge such functions that are at par with the State Legislatures. The job of the Court is to define the law and not to create a status which otherwise is not enjoyed by the Union Territory."
The Bench further said that, "The judgment of the learned Single Judge does also reflect a tension between constitutionalism and the sentiments of popular democracy, but it should not be lost sight of that every form of governance draws its legitimacy from the Constitution."
The Division Bench went on to hold,
"All said and done, the upshot is that the Union Territory of Puducherry and it's legislature as well as it's system of governance is distinct. It therefore cannot be given an equivalent status that of a State through a judicial verdict given it's present Constitutional and legal structure..."
Madras High Court
The Court has, however, added,
Citing allied observations in this respect in the Supreme Court's verdict in State (NCT of Delhi) vs. Union of India and another, the Bench added that, "This is how one can fulfill the goal of cooperative federalism, while upholding constitutional supremacy."
The Bench proceeded to find that there was no need to quash the two communications issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs which had triggered the controversy.
Earlier, the Single Judge had earlier found had effectively undermined the power of the Legislative Assembly and elevated the power of the Administrator. Disagreeing with the Single Judge's view, the Division Bench has held,
"The impugned communications of the Central Government are only advisory and clarificatory in nature. In the event any reference is raised as observed above, the same shall be decided keeping in view the correct impact of the 1963 Act read with the 1963 Rules of Business and other ancillary rules objectively and to the rational satisfaction of the authority."
Madras High Court
The Division Bench has also found that the Rules of Business of the Government of Puducherry, 1963 were clear on the intertwined roles of the Lieutenant Governor and the elected government of Puducherry.
While functions that are to be transacted with the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers by the Administrator (LG) were found in the Chapter III of the Rules, Chapter IV deals with executive functions of the Administrator. A reading of these rules, and relevant Constitutional provisions, has led the Court to find that:
It is clear that the Administrator has to act on the aid and advice of the Chief Minister and his Council of Ministers in respect of the matters which a Legislative Assembly of Union Territory has powers to make laws;
An exception to this general rule under the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 is in cases where the LG is “is required by or under this Act to act in his discretion or by or under any law to exercise any judicial or quasi-judicial functions”;
The proviso to Section 44 of the 1963 Act also enjoins that in case of difference of opinion between the Administrator and his Ministers on any matter, the Administrator shall refer it to the President for decision and act according to the decision given thereon by the President;
Pending such decision it shall be competent for the Administrator in any case where the matter is in his opinion so urgent that it is necessary for him to take immediate action, to take such action or to give such direction in the matter as he deems necessary;
When it comes to as to whether the Administrator is required to act in its discretion with respect to “special responsibilities” outlined in the Act, the decision of the Administrator had been made final;
The primary responsible role of the governance has to be executed by the Council of Ministers who are under an obligation to issue orders under Rule 17;
The exercise of such authority is controlled by Rule 25, where a subject matter as entailed in the said rule shall have to be submitted through the Chief Minister before the Administrator before the issue of orders;
The Administrator thereupon has the authority to revisit the matter under Rule 26;
On any further or adverse or other opinion the Administrator may require the case to be submitted before the Council of Ministers;
The Administrator can call for any information from the Chief Minister on proposals for legislation or other information relating to the Administrator as per Rule 27;
If the Administrator with regard to the subject matter of Rule 4(1) (concerning issuance of statutory rule, notification or order etc.) has a difference of opinion it has to be resolved by taking recourse to Rule 50 or by referring to the Central Government under Rule 51 whereupon the decision of the President of India shall be acted upon;
A draft bill can be referred by the Administrator prior to its introduction in the legislative assembly.
In other words, the Court found that even when it comes to the functions outlined in Chapter III, the Administrator can refer the matter to the President if there is a conflict of opinion.
Ultimately, the Bench observed, "… the fact remains that the 1963 Act read with 1963 Rules of Business…clearly define the distribution of powers and the exercise thereof with a leaning in favour of the Union Government to take an appropriate decision.”
The Bench, however, added a word of caution that the Central Government ought to respond within a reasonable time, and within the Constitution's limits, when such references are made following a conflict of opinion.
In this regard, the Bench also observed, "a delayed decision would continue to engage the constitutional functionaries in criticisms that are reflected in the public domain which are not only disquieting, but also tend to undermine the faith in the system."
With these observations, the Court has allowed the appeals filed in the matter. Arguments for the appellants were led by Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi for the Central Government, along with Senior Advocate Arvind P Datar, who appeared for Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi, and Senior Advocate AL Somayaji.
The original writ petitioner was represented by Senior Advocates G Masilamani, VT Gopalan, and Om Prakash. Government Pleader A Gandhiraj made arguments for the Chief Secretary to Government, Government of Puducherry.
[Read the Judgment]