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August 6, 1998


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Goa govt future uncertain

Sandesh Prabhudesai in Panaji

It is the same constitutional provision, which had dethroned Dr Wilfred de Souza four years ago, that has now made him the chief minister of Goa.

In April 1994, his government was dismissed using Article 164 (1) of the Constitution by then governor Bhanu Prakash Singh. Using the same section amidst controversy, Governor retired Lt General Jack Frederick Ralph Jacob has made him secure the highest post in the state.

The provision simply states, ''The ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the governor.'' The provision has been interpreted to imply that the governor can dismiss the government, withdrawing his pleasure.

The governor has dismissed the Congress government headed by Pratapsingh Rane, withdrawing his pleasure under this section, and has installed Dr de Souza's coalition government, consisting of the Congress splinter group, the Goa Rajiv Congress, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

But Dr de Souza had cried injustice when, using the same provision in April 1994, the then Goa governor had dismissed his government to reinstate Ravi Naik, who had to step down after the high court confirmed his disqualification from the assembly. Both Singh and Naik had to lose their positions, facing the ire of the P V Narasimha Rao government. Dr de Souza was reinstated in seven days.

Asked to comment on the two incidents, Dr de Souza said, ''My government was dismissed without any valid reason, as per Singh's whims and fancies. I still enjoyed majority support.'' Rane, on the other hand, had lost majority in the House. ''What else could the governor do?'' he asks.

But challenging this contention, Rane has now moved the high court. ''The governor cannot dismiss the chief minister, using Article 164 (1), since it applies to ministers and not the chief minister,'' he said.

To strengthen his case, the Congress leader has also cited the Uttar Pradesh case, where then governor Romesh Bhandari had dismissed the Kalyan Singh government. The high court had struck down this order, reinstating Singh in Jagdambika Pal's place.

On similar grounds, the Congress has criticised the governor for allegedly interfering with the speaker's authority in the legislature. In sight thus appears to be a fierce constitutional battle between two supreme authorities -- the governor and the speaker.

Goa, even in the past, has played a major role in rewriting the Anti-Defection Act. In 1990, the Rane government was toppled by a group of rebels led by then speaker Dr Luis Proto Barbosa to form a short-lived coalition government along with the Opposition.

Dr Barbosa, who later became the chief minister, was disqualified by his minister Dr Kashinath Jhalmi, who was appointed by the House to decide the case. He had stated that the speaker cannot be part of any split. The Supreme Court had upheld the judgment.

Now, it is probably the turn of the governor's office. Local Congress leaders claim that General Jacob was sent by the BJP to dislodge the Congress government.

Goa PCC president Shantaram Naik also points out to the fact that his predecessor T R Satishchandran was compelled to step down within a short span, after the BJP came to power in Delhi.

While demanding the governor's recall, the Congress has criticised General Jacob for compelling Speaker Tomazinho Cardoz to change the assembly's agenda by misusing his constitutional powers under Section 175. They also allege that the governor had disrespected the Constitution by disregarding the speaker's interim order on the disqualification petitions pending before him. He was competent enough to issue this under Article 191 (2) of the Constitution.

The coalition partners in the new government, on the other hand, have charged that Rane has openly misused the speaker's office for his political survival. They have now moved yet another no confidence motion against the speaker, which may be passed if the government survives from these legal battles.

Dr de Souza has already won one battle, with the high court quashing the speaker's interim order, which had restrained the breakaway Congress group from entering the House, so that Rane could win the confidence vote.

The high court has passed strictures against the speaker, stating that he acted in haste and against the principles of natural justice. The judges also observed that the order was issued to prevent the coming events and it had grave, immediate and irreversible repercussions, with reference to the confidence motion and financial business transacted on July 28.

It is not known what impact the judgment had on Cardoz, but he has now reserved his judgment on the two disqualification petitions pending before him, though the hearing has been completed. While one petition seeks disqualification of all the 10 rebels, the other one speaks of only five, since the Congress claimed that five of them were expelled much before the split.

Dr de Souza, however, sees no threat to his government from both the cases, before the speaker and the high court. He feels the high court order on the speaker's interim order has strengthened his contention that Cardoz had acted in a partisan manner.

He also seems confident of winning the confidence vote even if the speaker disqualifies five of the rebels at the eleventh hour, without giving them a chance to seek a stay on in a court of law. He said all the 10 cannot be disqualified as the speaker has already accepted that five of them have been expelled from the Congress.

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