SC refuses to interfere with governor-ordered floor test in Maharashtra, Uddhav resigns

SC refuses to interfere with governor-ordered floor test in Maharashtra, Uddhav resigns

The decision came after Sena leader Sunil Prabhu asked for an urgent hearing to stop the floor test Thursday. The court said it would continue hearing the petition on merit.

File photo of Uddhav Thackeray | ANI

File photo of Uddhav Thackeray | ANI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday refused to interfere with the Maharashtra governor’s direction to the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition to prove its majority in the assembly Thursday — thus clearing the decks for a floor test. 

A bench of justices Surya Kant and J.B. Pardiwala delivered the order on a petition filed by Sunil Prabhu, chief whip of Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, which is currently in the throes of a political crisis following a rebellion by many of its MLAs. Prabhu had challenged Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s decision to hold a floor test.

Uddhav resigned as chief minister soon after the Supreme Court order.

The judges, who pronounced their order after three-and-a-half hours of a marathon hearing, said: “We are not staying tomorrow’s special session as convened by the governor.”

However, the bench said that it would decide former Union minister Prabhu’s petition on merit, and that Thursday’s assembly session would be subject to the outcome of “these proceedings”.

The court gave five days to the respondents to file their responses to the petition and also gave Prabhu two days thereafter to file his rejoinder. 

The court will hear the case on 11 July.

The top court also allowed two jailed MLAs of the MVA — Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh — to participate in the special session of the assembly.

The court said the two leaders, both of whom are being investigated for money laundering allegations, will be escorted by the ED and CBI — the agencies investigating their cases —  to the Vidhan Sabha. The leaders will be taken back once the proceedings end, the court said. 

Also read: Uddhav Thackeray’s failing trapeze act on secularism-Hindutva has lessons for other parties

Urgent hearing

Prabhu’s lawyer, senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, mentioned his petition before the apex court Wednesday morning and asked the court to hold an urgent hearing on the matter as the floor test was scheduled Thursday. 

The bench agreed to assemble at 5 pm to hold the special hearing.

While mentioning the petition, Singhvi said the rebel group of Shiv Sena MLAs led by Eknath Shinde should not be allowed to vote in the floor test, which cannot include names of those who “are stigmatised” (that is, facing disqualification).  

Prabhu’s petition comes two days after the top court restrained the deputy speaker of the assembly, Narhari Zirwal, from proceeding with disqualifying Shinde and 15 more Shiv Sena rebel MLAs.

This order was passed on a petition filed by Shinde and two more MLAs. While giving the Shinde camp a breather till 11 July — the next date of hearing — the top court also agreed to look into whether a speaker or a deputy speaker whose own competence is under question is authorised to entertain requests for disqualification.

The Shinde faction told the court that Zirwal had issued a disqualification notice to 16 dissidents on 25 June — four days after they had sought his removal from the position of deputy speaker

Despite the Uddhav Thackeray camp expressing apprehension that the governor might call for a floor test before the court’s hearing on 11 July, the Supreme Court declined to issue any orders related to it.

‘Floor test would render disqualifications infructuous’

In his petition, Prabhu argued that a floor test cannot take place while disqualification petitions are still pending — a decision that, according to the petition, was put off because of the top court’s intervention. 

The petition said that the fetters imposed on the speaker by the Supreme Court restricted him from adjudicating the petitions. Having a floor test in such a situation would render the disqualifications infructuous, the petition said.

Singhvi also objected to the “supersonic speed” and the “undue haste” in which the governor ordered the floor test and said it appeared that he acted on the “aid and advice” of the leader of opposition — BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis. 

The senior lawyer was referring to a late-night meeting between Fadnavis and Koshyari, following which the latter issued the floor test order Wednesday morning.

Even though Prabhu didn’t name Shinde or other dissidents as respondents in his petition, the rebel group appeared before the court and opposed his plea to defer the floor test. Koshyari, too, justified his call for a floor test, adding that Prabhu had failed to establish how his order was bad in law.

“The governor in totality is satisfied that floor test is mandatory since the source of power (of a government) is in the democratically elected House,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted before the bench on behalf of Koshyari. “The parameters to challenge the governor’s order [are] not made out.”

He further contended there would have been a dereliction of duty (on the governor’s part) if the floor test was not ordered.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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