New Delhi: The Opposition has blamed the ruling dispensation for unleashing political instability in many states of the country, saying elected governments are being overthrown due to horse-trading. As the political crisis brews, parties look up at the Supreme Court to neutralise an attempt to topple elected governments.
In February 2016, the top court’s decision to lift its order of status quo in Arunachal Pradesh cleared the road for withdrawal of the emergency and the possibility of a new government being formed with rebel Congress leader Kalikho Pul as chief minister. Pul, who became chief minister on 19 February 2016, was only in power till July 2016. He was ousted from office after an order of the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court. In July 2016, the Constitution bench said that the governor’s decision to advance the floor test for NabamTuki from January 2016 to December 2015 was unconstitutional as there was no sign Tuki had lost the majority then.
On July 13, 2016 judgment in Nabam Rebia vs Deputy Speaker, Arunachal Pradesh, the apex court considered whether the governor must exercise this power in his discretion or on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. “In a situation where the Governor has reasons to believe that the Chief Minister and his Council of Ministers have lost the confidence of the House, it is open to the Governor to require the Chief Minister and his Council of Ministers to prove their majority in the House, by a floor test. Only in a situation, where the Government in power on the holding of such floor test is seen to have lost the confidence of the majority, it would be open to the Governor to exercise the powers vested with him under Article 174 at his own, and without any aid and advice,” noted the top court in its 2016 judgment.
In May 2016, the Supreme Court gave a severe jolt to the NDA government by directing the former chief minister of Uttarakhand, Harish Singh Rawat to take a ‘vote of confidence’ on the floor of the Assembly on May 10 and ordered suspension of president’s rule in the state from 10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 10, when the floor test was to take place. The top court declined to permit 9 rebel Congress MLAs — who were disqualified by the speaker — from participating in the confidence motion.
In May 2018, the apex court ordered Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa to prove his majority support in the Assembly. The top court shortened the 15-day window he had received from the governor to face a floor test. The court’s order came on a plea filed by the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) combine against the governor’s invite to the BJP’s Yediyurappa to form the government, following a hung House.
In Shiv Sena & Ors vs. Union of India & Ors (2019), the Supreme Court held that the governor can direct the floor test immediately to prevent horse-trading. “In a situation wherein, if the floor test is delayed, there is a possibility of horse-trading, it becomes incumbent upon the court to act to protect democratic values. An immediate floor test, in such a case, might be the most effective mechanism to do so, said the top court.
In Shivraj Singh Chouhan vs Speaker Madhya Pradesh (2020), the apex court said: “In a situation where the Governor has reasons to believe that the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister has lost the confidence of the House, constitutional propriety requires that the issue be resolved by calling for a floor test. The Governor in calling for a floor test cannot be construed to have acted beyond the bounds of constitutional authority.”
In Madhya Pradesh, the MLAs in the Jyotiraditya Scindia camp defected to the BJP. The then Congress Chief Minister Kamal Nath asked the governor to dissolve the Assembly. However, the governor called for a floor test.
On June 29, the bench comprising Justices Surya Kant and J.B. Pardiwala — after hearing counsel of Shiv Sena, rebel MLAs, Eknath Shinde, and the governor for over three hours in a late evening court hearing — said: “We do not find any ground to stay convening of the special session of the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha on June 30, 2022, i.e, tomorrow at 11.00 a.m. with the only agenda of a trust vote.”
The bench added, “The proceedings of the trust vote to be convened on June 30, shall be subject to the final outcome of the instant Writ Petition as well the Writ Petitions referred to above.” The top court’s order came on a plea by Shiv Sena chief whip Sunil Prabhu terming governor’s decision direction to the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government to take a floor test and prove its majority in the House on Thursday (June 30), as illegal, claiming the governor didn’t take into account deputy speaker’s disqualification notices to 16 rebel MLAs. Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray resigned after the top court’s order.
From the above judgments, it is clear that the apex court has emphasized on floor test in the Legislative Assembly to establish political stability in the state.