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Nepal’s Supreme Court Forms New Constitutional Bench to Hear Petitions Against House Dissolution

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A new Constitutional Bench of the Nepal Supreme Court was formed on Sunday to hear a bunch of petitions against the May 22 dissolution of the House of Representatives by the President after differences among justices over its composition delayed the crucial hearing to end the political crisis in the country.

The bench was formed by Nepal’s Chief Justice Cholendra Shamsher Rana on the basis of seniority and expertise of the Supreme Court Justices.

The Chief Justice had said a Constitutional Bench would be formed on June 6 to start hearing of the cases related to the dissolution of the House. The new Constitutional Bench includes justices Dipak Kumar Karki, Anand Mohan Bhattarai, Mira Dhungana, Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada and the chief justice himself, according to court officials.

Nepal President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolved the 275-member House of Representatives on May 22 for the second time in five months and announced snap elections on November 12 and November 19 on the advice of Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, heading a minority government. Following the illness of Justice Bishwambhar Prasad Shrestha, his successor justices Bhattarai and Khatiwada were included in the Constitutional Bench.

Earlier, the hearing was affected due to a dispute in the formation of the Constitutional Bench. Chief Justice Rana had picked justices Dipak Kumar Karki, Aanand Mohan Bhattarai, Tej Bahadur KC and Bam Kumar Shrestha for the bench to hear about 30 petitions registered against the “unconstitutional” dissolution, the court sources said.

As many as 146 members of the dissolved House, including Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, who had staked a claim to form the new government under Article 76 (5) of the Constitution, have also filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking reinstatement of the House. President Bhandari rejected the separate bids of both Prime Minister Oli and the Opposition alliance’s claims to form a new government, saying the claims were insufficient.

A controversy erupted after a lawyer of Deuba raised questions over two justices picked as members of the Constitutional Bench given their previous decision on the case of reviewing the Communist Party of Nepal’s unity and registration. After the justices under question — Tej Bahadur KC and Bam Kumar Shrestha — decided not to leave the bench, two other justices picked for the Constitutional Bench chose to opt-out of the bench.

This forced Chief Justice Rana to reconstitute the bench to hear the writ petitions filed against the dissolution of Parliament. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Oli’s lawyers on Sunday expressed dissent over the reconstitution of Constitutional Bench by Chief Justice Rana to hear the House dissolution case.

Advocates Rajaram Ghimire, Deepak Mishra, Krishna Prasad Bhandari and Yagya Mani Neupane claimed before the court that 11 of the 13 justices in the current roster are unfit to hear the case. The hearing, as such, has been obstructed following the filing of application by Oli’s advocates arguing that the justices cannot proceed with the case as some of the petitioners were involved with the parliamentary hearing committee that conducted hearing for their appointment to the apex court.

These are the same advocates that had submitted a writ demanding reinstatement of House and reappointment of Oli. In response, Chief Justice Rana warned the advocates that they could be charged with contempt of court if they do not withdraw their application. However, Oli’s advocates said they will proceed with the application and will face the charges as they come, The Himalayan Times reported.

In the meantime, Attorney General Ramesh Badal has also opposed the reconstitution of the bench stating that original bench formed to hear the case should proceed with the same. Uncertainty looms large over the fate of the House of Representatives dissolution related hearing with the recurring hassles regarding the composition of the Constituational Bench meant to scrutinise the case, the newspaper commented. Nepal’s Opposition alliance issued a joint statement on Saturday condemning the Cabinet reshuffle done by the minority Oli government.

Oli on Friday reshuffled the Cabinet. The new Cabinet has three Deputy Prime Ministers, 12 cabinet ministers and two state ministers. Oli has made a mockery of Constitutional and democratic values by reshuffling the Cabinet at a time when his move dissolving the House is sub judice in the Supreme Court, the Opposition alliance said in a statement.

The five-party alliance also said the government’s announcement in the budget that it would allow the export of river materials from the Chure range could lead to desertification of the Tarai, and thus it was an anti-national and anti-people move. The alliance also condemned the government move to allow middlemen and racketeers to supply iodised salt.

Nepal plunged into a political crisis on December 20 last year after President Bhandari dissolved the House at the recommendation of Prime Minister Oli, amidst a tussle for power within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Oli’s move to dissolve the House sparked protests from a large section of the NCP led by his rival Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’.

However, two months later, Chief Justice Rana-led Constitutional Bench on February 23 overturned the decision and reinstated the House of Representatives.

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