The Supreme Court on June 29 refused to stay the floor test in Maharashtra assembly, which has been scheduled for tomorrow on the directions of the state governor.
The result of the floor test, however, will be subject to the outcome of the apex court's decision in the case involving the disqualification notice issued to 16 rebel Shiv Sena MLAs, the bench said.
The court further noted that jailed Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLAs Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh will be allowed to participate in the floor test proceedings. The two MLAs have to be brought back to judicial custody after the proceedings are over, it noted.
The order came on the plea moved by Shiv Sena's chief whip Sunil Prabhu, who had moved the top court earlier today against the governor's directive for a floor test.
Arguing for the Uddhav Thackeray-led camp of the Shiv Sena, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi opposed the floor test called for by the governor on the grounds that the disqualification of rebel MLAs ought to be decided first.
The floor test is held to show majority in a house and only eligible members are allowed to cast vote in this trust vote. Should the dissident MLAs led by Eknath Shinde are found to be guilty of defection and are disqualified, they would be ineligible to participate in the floor test. However, by calling for a floor test in a “super sonic speed”, MLAs who are facing ineligibility might find safe passage to vote in the proceedings of the house, Singhvi argued before the court.
Singhvi’s argument, as such, hinged on the point that the pool of MLAs eligible to vote in the trust vote can be decided only after the disqualification petitions against Shinde-led MLAs is decided. The lawyer also added that the proceedings before the Supreme Court would be rendered infructuous if the governor was allowed to “short circuit” the process and call for a floor test when the country’s top court is seized of the case.
The governor did not verify the list of names of the MLAs in the letter tendered to him, Singhvi submitted on being asked by the court.
Senior Advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, on the other hand, representing the dissident group of the Shiv Sena vehemently argued that the Shinde-led rebel MLAs “are not leaving the Shiv Sena… we are the Shiv Sena” with support from 39 MLAs and “they (Uddhav Thackeray camp) are a hopeless minority with just 16 MLAs.”
The only way to prevent or stop horse-trading is to allow for the floor test to be held, the Shinde faction argued.
The Shinde-faction also pressed that a speaker or a deputy speaker cannot proceed with disqualification proceedings against MLAs when a motion for disqualification remains pending against him. Kaul argued that “the pecking order has been laid down in precedents” and that the motion against the speaker ought to be decided before disqualification petitions against the MLAs.
Citing precedents, Kaul also argued that it is a well-settled principle that the questions of floor test and impact of the resignation of MLAs vis-à-vis the tenth schedule operate in distinct domains and as such a floor test called for by the governor cannot be subject to proceedings pertaining to MLAs’ resignation.
Supplementing the argument further, Kaul also said that in cases of political crises of state governments, the top court has always heard cases seeking urgent floor tests. This is the first time a minority government had approached the court to subvert the system by seeking deferment of a floor test directed by the governor.
The governor represented by the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta defended the action of calling the floor test and Mehta argued that it would have been a dereliction of the governor’s duty of a floor test was not called immediately.
In his rejoinder, Singhvi stressed that “a floor test permitted tomorrow followed by a possible disqualification by the Speaker is irreversible” making a case against the scheduled floor test. Adding further, Singhvi said before the court that those who believe that governors cannot be political are living in an ivory tower.
The Shiv Sena had approached the Supreme Court challenging the Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s notice for holding the floor test in state’s assembly on June 30. The petition was moved by Shiv Sena’s chief whip Sunil Prabhu just hours after the notice for floor test was issued late night on June 28.
Earlier this week, the top court, while hearing a petition filed by the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs led by Eknath Shinde, had refrained from passing any orders on the issue of an impending floor test despite a fervent plea for the same by the lawyers representing the Uddhav Thackeray camp. The court had observed that it did not want to complicate the matter by passing any orders.
The apex court had extended the deadline for filing replies to disqualification notice for 16 rebel MLAs till July 12 and had agreed to hear the core issue in Shinde and other rebel MLAs’ plea concerning the deputy speaker on July 11. The question before the court was if the deputy speaker could act on the rebel MLAs’ disqualification while a motion for his removal remained pending.
After the interim relief came from Supreme Court, the rebel faction of the Shiv Sena not only claimed support from as many as 50 MLAs but also asserted that they will return to Mumbai for a floor test. The rebel faction was stationed in Assam’s Guwahati under central forces’ security.Separately, NCP MLAs Malik and Deshmukh, who are in prison presently in relation to a case under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), also knocked on the top court’s doors seeking to be released temporarily to be able to participate in the floor test.