SC order on November 26 on Maharashtra floor test issue

All parties agree a floor test is ‘imperative’; Justice Khanna says the court has always ordered floor test within 24 hours

November 25, 2019 12:18 pm | Updated 11:18 pm IST - New Delhi

The Supreme Court will pass its order at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday.

The Supreme Court will pass its order at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday.

The Supreme Court on Monday said it would pass an order on Tuesday on the question of holding a floor test in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. “We will give our order at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow [November 26],” said Justice N.V. Ramana, who led the Bench.

The Governor’s office and parties on either side of the State’s political divide agreed in the court that a floor test was “imperative” to determine majority but differed on when it should be held.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis , through senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, told the Bench that a floor test in the next 24 hours was simply out of question and that the court could not dictate terms to the Governor.

But Justice Sanjiv Khanna, on the Bench, put matters in perspective. “In every case, the court has ordered the floor test to be held within 24 hours... The majority is not decided by the Governor, but on the floor of the House... Question is today whether the CM enjoys majority in the House. So a floor test has to be held,” he observed orally.

During the hearing, Mr. Rohatgi argued that all that the court could do now was to request Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari to initiate a floor test within a “reasonable time”.

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Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Governor’s office, frowned upon the idea of holding a floor test “today or tomorrow”. He said the court should first give them “two or three days’ time” to file their replies to the petition filed by the Shiv Sena–NCP–Congress combine challenging the Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar government formation on November 23.

He said the “entire stable” of the Shiv Sena had ditched their pre-poll alliance with the BJP and gone to the other side and that an immediate floor test would serve as an impetus for horse-trading.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, appearing for the NCP and the Congress, said that a quick floor test would act as an antidote rather than impetus to horse-trading shenanigans. “Both sides agree to floor test. Why should you wait for their reply affidavits now? The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” he said.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for the Shiv Sena, referred to the “startlingly quick” succession of events overnight on November 22 that culminated in the Fadnavis–Ajit Pawar government formation. “For some, opportunities came knocking in the cover of the night. Let a floor test be conducted for all to see,” he said.

The hearing started with Mr. Mehta producing the Governor’s order inviting Mr. Fadnavis to form government. He also produced Mr. Fadnavis’s letter to the Governor staking claim to form government. He drew attention to Mr. Ajit Pawar’s letter, “enclosed” with the signatures of 54 NCP MLAs, supporting Mr. Fadnavis.


But Mr. Singhvi questioned the very context in which the NCP MLAs had put their signatures . “What they have shown here to you [Supreme Court] is the signatures of all 54 NCP MLAs electing Ajit Pawar as legislative party leader. They did not sign their support for allying with the BJP to form government. The BJP has been too clever by half. This is sheer perjury... Does a single NCP MLA here say they will join with the BJP to form the government? Is there a single covering letter saying this? This is a fraud on democracy,” he submitted.

Mr. Ajit Pawar, represented by senior advocate Maninder Singh, insisted he had “acted as the leader of the NCP legislative party on November 22. There was nothing to show otherwise on that day. The Governor acted in his discretion. I am NCP!” he declared.

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Mr. Sibal reacted, saying, “We have original affidavits here to show that Ajit Pawar was not authorised to represent the NCP. So hold a floor test. Let the oldest member of the House be made Protem Speaker. Let the floor test be video-recorded”.

Mr. Rohatgi for Mr. Fadnavis intervened, “So, one Pawar is with them. One Pawar is with me. It may be a family feud. It’s not me indulging in horse-trading... Look, my pre-poll partner goes away. President's rule is imposed. NCP through Ajit Pawar writes with 54 MLAs’ signatured support. I go to the Governor with 170 MLAs to form government. My claim is accepted. President's rule is revoked. I am sworn in".

Mr. Mehta agreed that the Governor could not have indulged in a fishing and roving enquiry on November 23. “He acted in his discretion. He had absolute discretion,” he submitted. 

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