With the Supreme Court set to hear on Tuesday the BJP’s plea seeking a directive to the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh to take a floor test “within 12 hours”, the spotlight is back on the legal debate on the powers of the Governor and the Speaker under the Constitution.
Since 2014, the legal-political tussle between the Governor and Speaker has prompted the Supreme Court’s intervention in three major instances — in the Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand cases in 2016, and in the Karnataka case in 2019. In all three cases, the court emphasised the primacy of the floor test.
In the Arunachal and Uttarakhand cases, the House was in suspended animation as President’s Rule had been imposed. The Supreme Court ordered that the House be summoned and a floor test held to end the impasse.
“If the House is adjourned sine die or prorogued without holding a floor test, then all options are open before the Governor. However, since this is the Budget Session, such adjournment without passing the Budget means that the government has collapsed,” said a senior advocate.
Earlier, the Sarkaria Commission had recommended that, if the CM neglects or refuses to summon the Assembly for a floor test, the Governor should summon the Assembly.
However, when the House is in session, the question of whether the court can direct the Speaker to hold a floor test is yet to be settled. This question was referred to a larger bench in 2016, which is yet to be constituted.
In the case of Karnataka in July last year, the Supreme Court had directed the Speaker to conduct the floor test forthwith when the House was in session. Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for then Speaker K R Ramesh, had questioned the jurisdiction of the court.
Article 212 of the Constitution bars courts from inquiring into proceedings of the Legislature.
In 1998, in the Jagadambika Pal case, the SC had ordered a composite floor test when the House was in session. However, in that case, there were two claimants to the chief minister’s post.