The three parties had approached the court on Sunday, praying that the floor test be ordered on Monday itself.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said it will pass an order at 10.30 am on Tuesday on the plea filed by the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine against the Maharashtra governor’s decision to swear in Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister and seeking a floor test in the Maharashtra Assembly within 24 hours to ascertain whether the BJP government has the majority support it claims to have.
The three parties had approached the court on Sunday, praying that the floor test be ordered on Monday itself. This was opposed by Mr Fadnavis and his deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar.
The court had on Sunday directed the Centre to place before it the letter by Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari inviting Devendra Fadnavis to form the government and also the letter submitted by Mr Fadnavis claiming majority support.
A bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjeev Khanna reserved the order on the plea by the three parties, which have formed and had, hours before Saturday’s revocation of President’s Rule and swearing-in of Mr Fadnavis along with Ajit Pawar of the NCP as his deputy, declared Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray as their leader.
When Mr Fadnavis was sworn in as chief minister at 7.30 am on November 23, after the revocation of President’s Rule at 5.47 am, the governor had granted him seven days to prove his majority in the House, which falls on November 30.
Solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the secretary to the governor, handed over the letter inviting Mr Fadnavis to form the government and said that the governor had administered the oath to Mr Fadnavis after he claimed the support of 170 newly-elected lawmakers — 105 of the BJP, 54 of the Nationalist Congress Party and another 11 Independents and MLAs belonging to other parties.
While recalling the sequence of events since October 24, when the results of the Maharashtra Assembly elections were declared, he also said that the governor was immune to the proceedings in the Supreme Court.
After perusing Mr Koshyari’s letter inviting Mr Fadnavis, the bench said it has to be decided whether the chief minister enjoyed a majority on the floor of the House.
Appearing for the chief minister, BJP and Independent MLAs, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi said that Mr Fadnavis went to governor Koshyari with the letter of support from deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and added that “it is nobody’s case that documents are forged or falsified”.
After he handed over the letter of support by 54 MLAs of the NCP and 11 others, including Independents, to the court, Justice Bhushan said: “The list of 54 MLAs nowhere says that they are supporting Devendra Fadnavis… They never said that they are supporting Devendra Fadnavis.”
Leaving nothing to doubt, Justice Khanna added that the “question today is very, very limited — whether chief minister (Fadnavis) enjoys majority support and for that there has to be a floor test”, a position conforming to the 1984 judgment by a nine-judge Constitution Bench which had, in the S.R. Bommai case, said whether a chief minster has majority support or not can only be tested on the floor of the state Assembly.
Maintaining that the BJP had the support of all 54 NCP MLAs, Mr Mehta sought two to three days’ time to file a response to the petition filed by the Shiv Sena, NCP and the Congress. Mr Rohtagi, citing constitutional provisions, said that court should leave it to the governor to decide the date of the floor test, with the suggestion that he should direct the floor test in a reasonable time of seven days.
While most of the arguments advanced on Monday by both the sides were a repeat of what was argued on Sunday, senior counsel Abhishek “Manu” Singhvi, appearing for the NCP and the Congress, wondered why the BJP and the newly sworn-in chief minister were resisting a floor test within 24 hours and want it to be postponed by a few days.
Describing the hasty exercise of government formation, Mr Singhvi said that the BJP was too clever by half and governor Mr Koshyari had turned a Nelson’s eye.
Mr Singhvi said that what has happened is a “fraud on democracy of the worst order” and urged the court to step in so that it is not allowed to go on.
Referring to the BJP’s claim to have the majority backing, Mr Singhvi said that “he is happy to lose” and dared them to have the floor test within 24 hours.
Referring to earlier similar instances — of Karnataka, Goa, Uttrakhand, Jharkhand — Justice Khanna said that in all the cases there was a consent order, wherein all the parties had agreed to a floor test.
Justice Khanna raised his eyebrows with an amused smile when senior counsel Maninder Singh, appearing for Ajit Pawar, said, “I am the NCP”.
“There is nothing to contradict my list. I was authorised to lend support on the day I gave that letter. I will resolve disputes within my party but this petition must end now,” he added.
Solicitor-general Mehta told the court that the governor Koshyari was aware that there was a pre-poll alliance between the BJP and the Shiv Sena but came to the realisation that he was faced with a situation where the entire “stable has been stolen”, in an obvious reference to the Shiv Sena severing ties with the BJP.
Describing Mr Mehta’s comment as polemical, senior counsel Kapil Sibal, in a mocking reference to Ajit Pawar, said: “The jockey has run away, the horses are still there.”
Pointing to prima facie malafide exercise of powers by the governor, where President’s rule was revoked at 5.47 am for the “national emergency” to install Mr Fadnavis-led BJP government, Mr Sibal said: “In the dead of night, things look bright and some opportunities come knocking.”