The time given to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis till November 30 to prove his majority in the House contradicts the Supreme Court’s orders passed in over the last two decades.
All these apex court orders show that floor tests should follow quickly, possibly within 24 to 48 hours of the swearing-in, in the face of doubts about the actual numbers a political party or alliance commands in the Assembly.
A long gap between coming to power and a floor test increases the risk of horse-trading and corruption, the court has said.
On February 24, 1998, the Supreme Court ordered a composite floor test to be held within 48 hours in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly to determine whether it was Jagadambika Pal or Kalyan Singh who had the majority.
On March 9, 2005, the apex court ordered the Jharkhand Assembly to conduct a floor test on March 11, 2005 “between the contending political alliances to see which of them has a majority in the House and hence a claim for Chief Ministership”.
On May 18, 2018, the Supreme Court ordered a floor test the very next day at 4 p.m — hardly 24 hours after BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa was sworn in as Karnataka Chief Minister. “Ultimately this is a number-game and the proof of the pudding is in the floor test,” the apex court had put it pithily.
The court's insistence for an immediate floor test is because a Governor’s nod to a party or alliance to form the government is given on a prima facie assessment based on the letters of support. A Governor cannot “count heads” or embark on a “fishing or roving enquiry” before appointing a Chief Minister under Article 164 of the Constitution.
A floor test is the conclusive proof of numbers in the House. The Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench judgment of 1994 in the S.R. Bommai case had introduced the concept of floor tests. The Constitution Bench referred to Article 164 (2) which mandates that the “Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly of the State”. The Bench interpreted that the ultimate test of majority is not held in the Raj Bhavan but on the floor of the House.
“If only one keeps in mind the democratic principle underlying the Constitution and the fact that it is the Legislative Assembly that represents the will of the people and not the Governor, the position would be clear beyond any doubt,” the Bommai judgment had reasoned.
Over the years, the apex court has intervened to order floor tests to overcome deadlocks in various States. It has ordered the appointment of the senior most member of an Assembly as Pro-tem Speaker to facilitate the conduct of floor test in a special session.