The Supreme Court on Tuesday requested Goa Governor Mridula Sinha to hold a floor test in the Legislative Assembly on March 16 for parties to prove a majority.
“This sensitive and contentious issue can be resolved by holding a floor test at the earliest. We request the Governor to hold the floor test at 11 a.m. on March 16, 2017,” the Supreme Court recorded in its order.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R.K. Agrawal refused to stay the swearing-in of BJP legislative party leader Manohar Parrikar as the State’s Chief Minister on Tuesday.
The Congress won 17 seats, while the BJP got 13 seats in the 40-seat Assembly. The Governor invited former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to form a government on March 12 after he paraded a majority 21 elected members, which included three each from the Goa Forward Party (GFP), Maharastrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and two independents.
The Congress moved the Supreme Court on March 13, claiming the Governor’s decision to appoint Mr. Parrikar as Chief Minister without even consulting the single largest legislative party was a “brazen” misuse of her constitutional office.
The court said it was not possible to stop the formation of a BJP government as the Congress had so far shirked from declaring that Mr. Parrikar’s majority claim of 21 members was wrong.
Neither has the Congress, in the past 48 hours, placed a counter claim before the Governor that they, and not the BJP, have the majority numbers in the Assembly. Nor have the Congress placed any argument or written record before the Supreme Court to prove that Mr. Parrikar does not enjoy the support of the majority of the elected members, the court said.
“On what satisfaction do we stop the oath-taking. You have not raised any argument here on the numbers [of members] you have. You have not even impleaded Mr. Parrikar. We cannot stop the formation of the government till the floor test is held,” Justice Gogoi told Congress party counsel and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi and advocate Devadatt Kamat.
In fact, the Bench said it could even dismiss the petition filed by Goa Congress legislative party leader Chandrakant Kavlekar on the simple ground that he did not implead Mr. Parrikar as a necessary party in this petition.
The court directed that all pre-requisite formalities, including that of the Election Commission, for holding a floor test be completed by March 15.
Senior advocate Harish Salve and Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, representing the Union of India and Goa, initially submitted that arrangements for a floor test would take some time and asked leeway till coming Friday or even Monday.
Mr. Salve read out a gubernatorial order that Mr. Parrikar needs to prove his majority in the House only in the next 15 days.
“But still we assure you that the floor test will be held ASAP,” Mr. Salve said.
“This is an issue of democracy at large. ASAP is not good enough. We want you to hold the floor test forthwith, immediately,” Chief Justice Khehar reacted.
Pointing to the Congress side, Chief Justice Khehar then addressed Mr. Salve: “They [Congress] are saying you [BJP] is a very powerful party and you can manipulate a majority.”
Justice Gogoi said that in this “fluid situation” prevalent in the State, the point of having a floor test is to test the Governor’s decision on the floor of the House”.
“It is not the court, but the House which has to decide the constitutionality of the Governor’s discretion through a floor test,” he said.
“If you are sincere, two of you [Congress and BJP] together will suggest the name of a Protem Speaker. The floor test cannot be done till the House is constituted. Once that is done, the Protem Speaker will preside over the floor test,” Chief Justice Khehar suggested the procedure ahead to resolve the impasse.
Mr. Singhvi persisted to argue that there was no need for government formation prior to the conduct of a floor test. He said the floor test should be held on Tuesday itself and not on Thursday, Friday or Monday.
The Bench reacted to this with some annoyance and said that they would, instead of ordering a floor test, choose to simply issue notice and have the case for hearing some other time.
“You do everything wrong first and then you point your finger at the world. Now, we are doing everything for you. Calling for a floor test immediately, but still you complain of a comma there or a full stop here,” Chief Justice Khehar addressed Mr. Singhvi in exasperation.
Lashing out at the Congress, the Supreme Court said it should have been forthright and come out with the exact number of members supporting it to form a government.
“You should have gone with your list to the Governor and told her ‘Here we have the numbers to form the government’. Any layman would have gone on a dharna in front of the Governor’s residence if he had the numbers and someone else was staking a claim to form a government. If I were you, I would have gone to the Governor’s house with 21 people,” Chief Justice Khear told Mr. Singhvi.
“You [Congress] could have proven your numbers anytime, even after approaching the Supreme Court. In the night or even today. But so far you have done nothing,” Chief Justice Khehar added.
“But I cannot barge or trespass into the Governor’s house. If this pernicious practice is laid down as law, all those who lose in elections and had no pre-poll alliance whatsoever will come together and parade themselves before the Governor to form a government and defeat the public mandate. My Lords, Governors cannot create governments, people create governments,” Mr. Singhvi countered.
In the hearing, Mr. Singhvi accused the Centre of using its political clout to defeat the mandate of people and grab power by misusing the office of a “strategically placed” Governor, who turned a Nelson’s eye on the fact that the Congress party was voted the “single largest party in the State Legislature”. The actions of the Centre and the Governor sound the “death knell for democracy”, the petition said.
The mandate of the people of Goa is clear from the fact that the incumbent BJP Chief Minister lost in both constituencies he contested and six of his Cabinet colleagues lost in all their constituencies, Mr. Singhvi submitted.
The Governor’s move to hastily appoint a BJP government without following the constitutional convention of consulting the Congress first was a “nullification of an electoral mandate”.
“The issue of Governor’s discretion does not arise here. The question to ask is whether it was possible for the Governor to use her discretion without consulting the single largest party?” Mr. Singhvi argued.