Moving to end the “state of uncertainty” in Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh following the resignation of 22 MLAs that plunged the Kamal Nath government into crisis, the Supreme Court, overruling objections Thursday, ordered a floor test in the state Assembly with the direction that it must be concluded by 5 pm Friday.
The bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta directed that the test be by show of hands, and that the 16 rebel Congress MLAs — six ministers had resigned earlier and late Thursday, the resignations of the remaining 16 too were accepted by the Speaker — be provided security if they wished to participate in the proceedings. It also ordered that the proceedings be videographed.
The strength of the 230-member Assembly has come down to 206 because of the 22 resignations and two vacancies due to the death of members. The BJP has 107 members.
On March 16, Speaker N P Prajapati, defying Governor Lalji Tandon’s direction to the Kamal Nath government to prove its majority, citied the coronavirus threat to adjourn the House until March 26.
Following the court ruling, the Congress issued a whip to its MLAs, directing them to be present in the House on Friday and vote in favour of the trust vote of the government.
Chief Minister Kamal Nath told a CLP meeting at his residence: “Today, the Supreme Court gave its judgment. We argued our case strongly. We also put up our arguments over the 16 captive legislators strongly. The court has given a verdict about the trust vote tomorrow. We are not disappointed. We are together.”
“The BJP has played a dirty game by holding our legislators hostage in Karnataka. They played the game to destabilise us because it was shaken by our pro-poor works. BJP was plotting from day one because it could not digest the mandate given by the people for state’s development,’’ he said.
The Chief Minister will address a press conference Friday noon.
Former Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who approached the Supreme Court with nine others to seek an immediate floor test, hailed the order as “defeat of injustice”.
“The government will be defeated in the floor test… We welcome the judgment, bow our heads,’’ Chouhan said. State BJP BJP president V D Sharma called it “the beginning of the end’’ of the Congress-led government.
In the Supreme Court, the bench observed that the time given to prove majority is like a “gold mine” for horse trading. “It is why the court has been proactive in ordering floor tests. The idea is to force the hand and make sure the floor test happens as soon as possible and prevent any illegalities,” Justice Chandrachud said.
In their order, the judges said: “The Director General of Police, Karnataka as well as the Director General of Police, Madhya Pradesh shall ensure that there shall be no restraint or hindrance whatsoever on any of the sixteen MLAs taking recourse to their rights and liberties as citizens. In the event that they or any of them opt to attend the session of the Legislative Assembly, arrangements for their security shall be provided by all the concerned authorities.”
They said “proceedings before the Legislative Assembly shall be videographed and, if a provision exists for live telecast of the proceedings, this shall in addition be ensured” and that “all authorities, including the Legislative Secretary, shall ensure that there is no breach of law and order in the course of the proceedings and that the floor test is conducted in a peaceful manner”.
“The submissions which have been urged before the Court would necessitate a judgment which would take some time to be delivered. The state of uncertainty in the State of Madhya Pradesh must be effectively resolved by issuing a direction for convening a floor test, bearing in mind the principles which have been enunciated in the decision of the nine-Judge Bench of this Court in S R Bommai v Union of India and in the decision of the Constitution Bench in Nabam Rebia v Deputy Speaker, Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly,” the bench said.
Senior advocate A M Singhvi. appearing for the Speaker, had said that courts had never directed a floor test in a running Assembly.
The bench, however, said that the Constitutional principle that emerges is that pendency of decision on a resignation or disqualification with the Speaker is no bar on a no-confidence motion. If the Speaker did not accept the advice of the Governor, one option open to the latter was to submit a report to the Centre, Justice Chandrachud said.
Singhvi referred to the discrepancies in the vakalatnama and affidavits submitted by the MLAs who had filed an application for impleadment in the case, and sought to drive home the point that they were being held captive against their will.
But Justice Chandrachud said it could well be a matter of non-application of mind, and not necessarily coercion. He said what is clear is that they are all acting in concert. However, it was not possible to infer anything, he said.
Singhvi said a floor test can take place in a running Assembly only when a no-confidence motion is moved or when a money Bill fails. But the bench wondered what would happen when the Assembly is prorogued and a government loses its majority. “Can’t the Governor then call the Assembly as not allowing this would amount to allowing a minority government to continue,” Justice Chandrachud asked.
Singhvi replied that the Governor can at the most summon a House and then the Speaker takes over. The Governor, he said, cannot dictate the business to the House.
At this, Justice Chandrachud said, “We understand that Governors can’t have carte blanche to destabilise elected governments. However, at the same time, Constitution also recognised some modicum of authority to the Governor to call for a trust vote”.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal said the court will be encouraging demolition of the Constitutional structure if it interprets the law in the manner as sought by the petitioner.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Chouhan, insisted on an early date for a floor test. He contended that the state government was only trying to buy time to do horse trading. He said the powers of a Governor are not subject to whether the House is in session or not.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Governor, questioned the contention that the working of the Madhya Pradesh House had been adjourned due to the coronavirus situation. The Parliament, Supreme Court were all working, he said, adding that democracy was not in the Speaker sitting over resignations and asking for two weeks to decide.
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