After a political roller coaster in Madhya Pradesh since the past week, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Speaker N P Prajapati to convene a special session on Friday for conducting the floor test which must conclude by 5 p.m.
A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud also ordered video recording and possible live streaming of the Assembly proceedings when the Kamal Nath -led Congress government would undertake the floor test. Thursday was the second day of the hearing on the matter.
According to LiveLaw, the bench said the floor test should by by show of hands.
The bench, also comprising Justice Hemant Gupta, directed the police chiefs of Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka to provide security to the 16 rebel Congress MLAs if they choose to appear in Assembly for trust vote.
Reacting to the SC order Congress leader Jitu Patwari told ANI: “We were always ready,” adding that “it was necessary the MLAs who were kidnapped be present here.... We are sure and ready”
Welcoming the SC order, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and BJP leader Shivraj Chouhan told ANI that the Kamal Nath government would lose the floor test.
“This government is not just a government which has lost the majority but this is a government of brokers which has cheated the people of Madhya Pradesh,” he said.
Bench also ordered that the Assembly should have a single point agenda of the floor test and no hindrance should be created for anyone.
It asked the state Assembly Secretary to ensure that there was no breach of law and order.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had suggested that Madhya Pradesh Assembly Speaker N P Prajapati should interact with the rebel Congress MLAs through video link or the court can appoint an observer to allay the fear that the legislators are in captivity.
The Speaker refused to accept the top court's proposal.
A bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta said it can create conditions to ensure that "exercise of volition" of the rebel MLAs is "truly voluntary".
"We can appoint an observer to Bengaluru or some other place so that the rebel MLAs can connect with the Speaker through video conferencing after which he can decide," the bench said.
It also asked the Speaker whether any inquiry was made on the resignation of the rebel MLAs and what decision has he taken on them.
Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for the Speaker, said the day court begins to give time-bound direction to the Speaker, it will be constitutionally problematic.
The counsel appearing for Governor Lalji Tandon told the bench that Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath was "sitting aside" in the turn of events and it is the Speaker who is "leading the political battle" in court.
The bench asked all the parties how the decision of a Speaker in matters of resignation and disqualification of MLAs affects the floor test.
It said the constitutional principle that emerges is that there is no restraint on trust vote because of resignation or disqualification being pending before the Speaker. It said, therefore, the court will have to flip around and see whether the Governor acted beyond the powers vested in him.
During the hearing, the bench said that if the government loses the majority when the Assembly was not in session, then Governor has the power to direct the Speaker to summon the Assembly.
"What happens when the assembly prorogues and the government loses its majority, then the Governor can call the Assembly," the bench said.
Singhvi said the Governor has very limited power with regard to functioning of the Assembly and he can only summon, prorogue and dissolve the House, but he cannot intervene into the functioning of assembly which falls under the purview of the speaker.
The Governor cannot ask the Speaker that you should do this, you should not do this, it is beyond his power, he said.
However, he added, the Governor has the right to summon the House but it cannot decide the functioning of the House.
The petition was moved in the SC after the recent switching over of Jyotiraditya Scindia from Congress to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the subsequent ‘resignation’ of his loyalist MLAs.
On Monday, the Speaker adjourned the House till March 26 citing coronavirus scare. It was widely speculated that the floor test would eventually be held along with Rajya Sabha polls, giving some more time to the Kamal Nath government to save its government.
The Madhya Pradesh Assembly has 230 seats, with the Congress holding 114 and BJP winning 107 seats.