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In the case relating to the political crisis in Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court today directed for a floor test to be conducted at the state legislative assembly on March 20 by 5PM (Shivraj Singh Chouhan v. Speaker Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly).
The order was passed by a Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta.
The order passed today states:
“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. These principles have been consistently reiterated in several subsequent decisions of this Court...”
The Bench also issued the following directions:
Session of Madhya Pradesh Assembly which was deferred shall reconvene on March 20
Meeting should be confined to one agenda - floor test
Voting on agenda shall take place by show of hands
Proceedings before the Assembly shall be videographed
All authorities shall ensure there is no breach of law and order and that floor test is conducted peacefully
Floor test to be concluded by 5 PM
DG of Karnataka Police and DG of Madhya Pradesh Police shall ensure that the rights of the rebel MLAs shall not be restrained and that security is provided to them
Appearing for Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal commenced his arguments during the post-lunch session. He said that this is a unique case where for the first time, a Governor is asking for a floor test. He added that neither side has claimed to have majority.
Sibal urged the Court not to encourage demolition of the constitutional structure by interpreting the law in a manner by which they (BJP and rebel MLAs) want. He went on to ask,
"If the (rebel) MLAs are free men, then what prevents them from coming to the Assembly and voting against the current government?"
Sibal went on to question the actions of the Governor in this case.
"Can Governor exercise his power just because the Opposition party say that a member of the ruling party with us, so the Government has lost majority?...
...There would be constitutional anarchy if the power of the Governor to summon the House is equated with power to interfere in the proceedings of the House."
The Congress leader further pointed out that the rebel MLAs have been given permission to fly out of Delhi Airport, at the behest of the Centre.
"It is a High Security area controlled by the Central Government and they have given the permission to fly from there. Nobody is able to meet them. Is this the definition of free man?"
At this point, Justice Chandrachud asked,
"How can we compel them (rebel Congress MLAs) to meet you?"
"You (Supreme Court) need not compel. You just ensure they can go wherever they want."
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the BJP petitioners, stated that the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh would fall if the MLAs either vote against the government or do not turn up.
"The only way this government will survive is if the MLAs turn up and vote for the Kamal Nath government."
Rohatgi went on to say,
"In earlier cases (Karnataka and Maharashtra) the Congress had argued for immediate floor test. Karnataka hearing was at midnight and they had a floor test immediately. Now they want two weeks."
The former Attorney General thus asked the Court to order a floor test, saying that it is evident that the Congress does not have the majority. He said,
"Pass an order for the floor test and let the results be placed before this Court."
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Governor, endorsed this submission. He said that the Speaker's sitting over resignations of the MLAs is not what democracy is.
He further stated that the Governor didn't invite the rival party (BJP in this case) to form the government, but instead asked the government in place to prove majority. He concluded his arguments with a request for an interim order today itself.
Senior Advocate Maninder Singh was next to make his rejoinder submissions. He said that it is a right of an MLA to tender resignation and to refuse to go to the Assembly. The rebel MLAs cannot be compelled to do otherwise, he asserted.
Making his counter arguments, Singhvi submitted that the decision of the Governor can be subject to judicial review.
Singhvi then asked the Court to give the Speaker two weeks' time to decide on the resignations. He added that what the Governor has done in Madhya Pradesh is worse than imposition of Article 356.
After hearing the parties, the Bench took a brief recess. On reconvening, it order for the floor test to be conducted tomorrow.
During the morning session, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi made his arguments on behalf of the Speaker of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly.
Singhvi reiterated that in a running House, there can be no floor test, only a vote of confidence or no confidence.
Justice Chandrachud had earlier expressed an inclination for the Court to appoint an observer to ensure that the rebel MLAs are acting of their own will and volition.
Yesterday, Senior Advocates Dushyant Dave, Mukul Rohatgi, and Maninder Singh made submissions in the matter. Dave accused the BJP of indulging in "complete destruction of Constitutional Morality". He concluded his arguments by urging the Court to issue the notice and hear the matter at length on some other day.
Rohatgi cited the Supreme Court's judgment in SR Bommai v. Union of India to say that a CM's refusal to hold a floor test can be interpreted as prima facie proof of his no longer enjoying the confidence of the House. He concluded his arguments by citing the examples of Karnataka and Maharashtra, where members of the Congress approached the Supreme Court for immediate floor test to take place.
The MP Congress had moved the Apex Court a day after BJP leaders sought a direction to hold a floor test in the state assembly. The Court today issued notice in the plea filed by BJP leaders including former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
[Read the order]