The Supreme Court on 13th April 2020 upheld the Madhya Pradesh Governor Lalji Tandon‘s decision asking the then Kamal Nath-led Congress government to prove a majority, saying the governor has the power to call for a floor test. The court said that if the Governor has reasons to believe that the government has lost the confidence of the House, constitutional propriety requires the issue to be resolved by the trust vote.
This is a strong indication that the Chief Minister himself thought that the situation in the state had cast his government’s majority in doubt. However, upon the convening of the Legislative Assembly, no floor test was conducted, and the House was adjourned till March 26, 2020. These facts form the basis on which the Governor advised that a floor test should be conducted.
The court, which had on 19th March 2020 asked Madhya Pradesh Assembly Speaker NP Prajapati to reconvene a special session the next day with the sole agenda of conducting the floor test, gave a detailed order on 13th April 2020.
It was a 68-page judgment and a Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta concluded that a Governor can call for a trust vote if he has arrived at a prima facie opinion, based on objective material, that the incumbent State government has lost its majority in the Assembly. The bench also dealt with the plea of Congress in which a direction was sought for granting access to the then 22 MLAs who were lodged at a hotel in Bengaluru. Here, they said when the satisfaction based on which the Governor has ordered a floor test is called into question, the decision of the Governor is not immune from judicial review.
“Based on the resignation of six ministers of the incumbent government (accepted by the Speaker), the purported resignation of sixteen more Members belonging to the Congress, and the refusal of the Chief Minister to conduct a floor test despite the House having been convened on March 16, 2020, the exercise of power by the Governor to convene a floor test cannot be regarded as constitutionally improper,” the bench said.
The Supreme Court also said that there is no impediment to a governor asking a chief minister to hold a floor test if he is of prima facie view that the government has lost majority. However, the court expressed concern over the trend that legislators are taken away by rival political parties at safe hideouts like hotels and resorts which does little credit to democratic politics.
Justice D.Y Chandrachud said:-
“The idea underlying the trust vote is to uphold the political accountability of the elected government to the State legislature… In directing a trust vote, the Governor does not favor a particular political party. The specific timing of a trust vote may inevitably tilt the balance towards the party possessing a majority at the time the trust vote is directed. All political parties are equally at risk of losing the support of their elected legislators, just as the legislators are at risk of losing the vote of the electorate. This is how the system of parliamentary governance operates.”
The Supreme court relied on its landmark nine-judge SR Bomai verdict of 1994 and said that the government was right in calling for the holding of the trust vote.
The final words of the Supreme Court were “Political bargaining, or horse-trading, as we noticed, is now an oft-repeated usage in legal precedents. ‘Poaching’ is an expression that was bandied about on both sides of the debate in the present case. Courts should maintain an arm’s length from the sordid tales of political life.”
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