Madhya Pradesh Crisis
Madhya Pradesh Crisis

Madhya Pradesh Political Crisis: Court mulls appointment of independent observer to ensure rebel MLAs are acting of their own will

Bar & Bench

The Supreme Court today continued hearing the petition filed by BJP leaders seeking a floor test in the wake of the Madhya Pradesh political crisis.

The matter was heard by a Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta.

Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Speaker of the state assembly, resumed his arguments today. He reiterated that the discretion of the Speaker is sought to be short circuited by calling for the Floor Test.

He stated that the absence of MLAs would lead to the creation of a smaller House.

When Justice Chandrachud inquired about what can be done - should the Speaker not take a call on the resignations, Singhvi suggested that a reasonable time be given to the Speaker to decide on the same.

Singhvi further submitted that the Speaker's decision cannot be taken in case the rebel MLAs are produced through video conferencing.

At this point, Justice Chandrachud expressed an inclination for the Court to appoint an observer to ensure that the rebel MLAs are acting of their own will and volition.

He said that appointing an independent observer to ensure free will of the rebel MLAs is a method to alleviate the apprehension of captivity and coercion. Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the MLAs, was agreeable to this suggestion.

Singhvi then asked the Court to give the Speaker two weeks' time to decide on the resignations, once the rebel MLAs return to Madhya Pradesh.

Justice Chandrachud then asked all lawyers how the decision of the Speaker to accept or not accept the resignations would affect the floor test. The Court was told that in case the resignations are not accepted, the rebel MLAs will be bound by the whip issued.

Singh, at this juncture, said that the rebel MLAs will not go to the assembly, regardless of the whip.

Singhvi resumed his submissions, telling the Court that in case of disqualification, persons have to face another election while resignation does not have this consequence. He reiterated that in a running House, there can be no floor test, only a vote of confidence or no confidence.

Senior Advocate AM Singhvi
Senior Advocate AM Singhvi

He then cited the Karnataka Assembly case, where the floor test was directed to be held within a prescribed period of time.

In response, Justice Chandrachud pointed out that the Court's order in that case had said that it would not interfere with the powers of Speaker. He also highlighted that in that case, trust vote was not deferred on account of pendency of petitions before the Speaker.

He added,

"The principle that appears to emerge is that there can be no restraint on trust vote on account of pendency of resignation or disqualification. Therefore, now what might need to be examined is if the Governor acted beyond the powers vested in him."

When Singhvi raised the issue of discrepancies in the documents presented by the rebel MLAs, Justice Chandrachud replied that this could be on account of non-application of mind, and that it does not necessarily mean there was coercion.

Chandrachud then asked if the Governor can call the Assembly when the government has lost its majority.

"Otherwise it would mean allowing a minority government to continue", he said.

Singhvi responded that the Governor may summon the House and then the Speaker is to take over.

The Senior Advocate went on to submit that summoning, proroguing and dissolving are the only three powers with the Governor.

Singhvi concluded his submissions on the point of adjournment of the House. He says that assemblies have been adjourned in six states, owing to the Coronavirus outbreak.

"Only need to see if the decision of the Speaker to suspend the House in MP on this reason is perverse."

Just as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta began to make his submissions, the Bench rose for lunch.

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.

Maninder Singh yesterday made it clear that the rebel MLAs would face the consequences as per the Constitutional provisions, but they don't want to meet the Congress leaders.

Singhvi began his arguments yesterday, stating that the plea by the BJP leaders was an attempt to short circuit the Speaker's discretion.

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.

The petition filed by the MP Congress alleges a blatant abuse of power and subversion of democracy by the BJP-ruled Central government as well as the BJP-ruled Karnataka government in holding the 16 ex-Congress MLAs from the state captive in Bengaluru.

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