Stating that “issues of democracy are large”, the Supreme Court Tuesday asked the incoming Manohar Parrikar-led government in Goa to prove its majority on the floor of the House Thursday. The court shot down Goa Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Chandrakant Kavlekar’s plea that the Governor should not have appointed Parrikar as Chief Minister in the first place and his swearing-in should, therefore, be halted.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar accepted Kavlekar’s submission that a floor test was the most valid method of proving majority and said it must be done “at the earliest” to ascertain which coalition could provide the “only stable government”.
It requested Goa Governor Mridula Sinha to ensure that all formalities regarding notifying the special session of the House Congress gets an earful, SC says can only order floor test soonest well as oath of the new legislators are done promptly on March 16 so that a floor test is conducted on that day to determine whether the BJP with its allies or a Congress coalition had the majority.
But the bench, also comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R K Agrawal, turned down a request by senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for Kavlekar, to stall the swearing-in of Parrikar, who was appointed as Chief Minister in accordance with the Governor’s order on the night of March 12.
Expressing its displeasure at the plea, the bench said: “If you are so fussy about such small things, then we should only issue a notice and give you a returnable date. Here, we are trying to do what is the best in such a situation but you are raking up useless issues. Why have you not impleaded the CM-elect in your petition? You want an order against him (Parrikar) behind his back but you have not even impleaded him. You have not disputed anywhere that their claim regarding the number of support is wrong but you want us to stay the Governor’s order.”
The court said that Singhvi could have “finished everything in 30 seconds” by demolishing Parrikar’s claims before the Governor that any one or two of the non-BJP MLAs were with the Congress and not with them. “You only had to file their affidavits to say that they are with you and not with the other party. They have given a list of 21 MLAs in the House of 40 but nowhere in your petition have you said that their claim is wrong and these MLAs are with you. You don’t tell us that here nor have you told this to the Governor,” it said.
Singhvi, on his part, tried to convince the bench that it was “constitutionally irrelevant” to prove the numbers before the court and that what he challenged was the Governor’s “hasty, predetermined and pre-decided” action of appointing Parrikar as the new Chief Minister without bothering to even ask the leader of the single largest party, Congress, about formation of the new government. According to Singhvi, Congress had the first claim to form the government.
At this, the bench said healthy constitutional conventions are also subject to numbers in such cases. “If the single largest party has the majority, then no such question has to arise. But when no political party is in majority, then it is the bounden duty of the Governor to see who can form the government. If nothing happens, then the Governor is duty-bound to call the leader of the single largest party but if someone goes to the Governor with a list of supporters, then it is a different issue altogether. Here, at no point of time, you have demonstrated that they don’t have the numbers but you do. Eventually, it is the question of healthy constitutional convention subject to the numbers” it said.
Rejecting Singhvi’s plea for a composite floor test where MLAs are required to take a call between two rival candidates, the court said: “In a situation like this where the House is asked to decide who will be the Chief Minister, the Governor’s role under Article 164 will be rendered redundant. But that has always been the constitutional principle. And then upon what satisfaction, we can stay his swearing-in? We can only order a floor test at the soonest.”
It said that Kavlekar’s petition had “many technical defects” but since the “the issues of democracy are large”, the court was directing a floor test. The bench, at the same time, also made it clear that the Congress leader could not put the court in the shoes of the Governor and that he was supposed to convince the Governor about holding the majority.
It, however, accepted Singhvi’s submission that 15 days was rather too long a time given by the Governor to Parrikar to prove his majority and said that it has to be done “forthwith”.
Senior lawyer Harish Salve and Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, appearing for Goa government and the Centre, did not oppose the plea for the floor test and said that it could be done within a week. The ASG said that the Election Commission would need at least two days to issue suitable notification and, hence, the floor test could be ordered for Friday or Monday next. The lawyers also said that 40 MLAs will also have to take oath.
The bench directed that “all pre-requisite formalities for holding a floor test, including the formalities required to be completed by the Election Commission, be completed by March 15” and the floor test to be held on March 16, “as early as possible but surely during the course of the same day”.