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In a significant development in the political crisis in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court today ordered for a floor test to be held on November 27. The proceedings of the floor test will be telecast live, the Court ordered.
A pro tem Speaker will be appointed with the sole purpose of conducting the floor test, the Court also held. It was further ordered that the proceedings of the floor test shall be completed by 5 PM and that secret ballot will not be followed.
The order was passed by the Bench of Justices NV Ramana, Ashok Bhushan, and Sanjiv Khanna.
The Bench noted that the issues of maintainability, extent of judicial review and validity of the Governor’s satisfaction raised by the counsel appearing in the case were important constitutional issues that required adjudication at a later stage. However, for the time being, the Court saw no reason to delay the floor test.
“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.”
The Court also observed that oath has not been administered to the elected members even though a month has elapsed since the declaration of election results. In such circumstances, it was necessary to order a floor test for the Fadnavis-led government to prove its majority.
Therefore, the following directions were passed with regard to the floor test in the Maharashtra Assembly:
The post-poll alliance of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party, and the Congress, also known as the Maha Aghadi, moved the Supreme Court on Saturday, November 23 in light of the early morning swearing-in ceremony that took place in the Raj Bhavan in Maharashtra. Through this ceremony, of which few knew about, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and NCP leader Ajit Pawar took charge as Deputy CM. The President’s Rule that was imposed in Maharashtra was revoked at 5.47 AM on Saturday morning, following which the oath-taking ceremony took place.
These developments of Saturday morning were questioned before the Apex Court, with the Maha Aghadi questioning the decision of the Governor to install a government in such a “tearing hurry”. It was alleged that the Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari was acting at the behest of the BJP. The decision of the Governor “smacked of bias”, according to Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal, who represented the Shiv Sena before the Court.
The Maha Aghadi also sought for an immediate floor test for show of strength in the Assembly; the Governor had earlier given time till November 30 for the same. In cases similar to this, the Supreme Court had directed for the floor test to be held within 24 to 48 hours, Senior Counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the NCP and the Congress told the Court.
On Sunday, the Court had ordered for two letters to be placed before it – one by the Governor inviting the BJP to form the government and the letter of support based on which Fadnavis staked claim to form the government – before passing any orders.
During the hearing that took place the next day, the Office of Governor, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, told the Court that Ajit Pawar communicated to the Governor that he was the elected leader of the NCP. The party was extending its support to the BJP to form the government in Maharashtra, it was further claimed. Pawar’s letter, along with the one written by Fadnavis indicating that he had the requisite numbers, was relied on by the Governor and he, “in his wisdom” invited Fadnavis to form government in the state, it was argued.
Supporting the Governor’s decision, former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi batted for a specified procedure to be followed for holding the floor test. He called for the appointment of a pro tem Speaker followed by administration of oath to the MLAs, election of the Speaker, and the floor test thereafter.
The role of Ajit Pawar as the leader of the NCP also came under question before the Court, with Senior Counsel Maninder Singh arguing that on the date support was extended, which was November 22, Ajit Pawar was the leader of the party and there is nothing to show to the contrary.
Ajit Pawar was reportedly removed from the Sharad Pawar-led NCP after his “individual decision” to support the BJP in forming the government. In light of the same, how the BJP enjoyed the support of majority MLAs was questioned before the Court. Ajit Pawar’s letter may have borne signatures of 54 MLAs, but this list of names was without a covering letter, Singhvi had told the Court. He went on to hint that there may have been foul play as regards the letter of support.
Counsel for the Maha Aghadi asked why the BJP was shying away from a floor test if it has the majority, while the opposing lawyers argued that there is no need for an urgent floor test. The Court, after two days of hearing the matter, reserved its order yesterday.
[Read the order]