Supreme Court: The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, JJ has held that the Madhya Pradesh Governor was right in ordering floor test after the State Government lost majority. The bench said,

“in a situation where the Governor has reasons to believe that the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister has lost the confidence of the House, constitutional propriety requires that the issue be resolved by calling for a floor test. The Governor in calling for a floor test cannot be construed to have acted beyond the bounds of constitutional authority.”

In a detailed judgment, the Court also explained the scope of the power of the Governor and the law revolving around floor tests.

On the timing of directing a trust vote

The Court explained that in directing a trust vote, the Governor does not favour a particular political party and that it is inevitable that the specific timing of a trust vote may tilt the balance towards the party possessing a majority at the time the trust vote is directed. The Court, however, added,

“where the evidence indicates that circumstances of violence and coercion exist that would undermine a free and fair vote in the assembly, the Governor and the court must take measures to ensure that the sanctity of the trust vote is maintained.”

It, hence, held that in the present case there existed no extraordinary circumstances for the Governor to determine that a trust vote was not the appropriate course of action on 16 March 2020.

On short-circuiting the Speaker’s discretion

The Court noticed that neither the Governor, nor for that matter this Court, has the power to impinge upon the authority of the Speaker to take a decision on the said issue, however, it refused to accept the submission that holding of a trust vote would short-circuit the jurisdiction of the Speaker on a matter of resignation and disqualification. It explained that holding of trust vote is a matter which can brook no delay since the authority of the government presided over by the Chief Minister depends on the Council of Ministers continuing to have the faith of the legislative body as a collective entity. Particularly where the Members resigned in an expression of a lack of faith in the existing government, the convening of a floor test is the surest method of assessing the impact of the resignations on the collective will of the house. It concluded by holding that,

“nothing prevents the Speaker from taking a decision either on matters of resignation or disqualification despite convening of a trust vote.”

On seeking Access to the ‘Captive’ Members

On the plea that access be made to the twenty-two Members who have been elected on the ticket of the INC were “spirited away” to Bengaluru, the Court held that in order to facilitate a trust vote for which the twenty-two Members should be free to participate in the house should they opt to do so, directions in that regard should be issued both to the Director General of Police of Karnataka as well as to the Director General of Police of Madhya Pradesh.

The Court, however, said that it cannot issue a direction mandating that a trust vote cannot be convened if any one or more Members do not remain present in the House.

“Whether or not to remain present is for the individual Members to decide and they would, necessarily be accountable for the decisions which they take, both to their political party and to their constituents.”

Factual Timeline

  • On 28 November 2019, elections for the fifteenth Legislative Assembly of the State of Madhya Pradesh were held.
  • On 11 December 2018, results were declared and INC staked the claim to form the government together with the support of four independents Members, two Members of the Bahujan Samaj Party and one Member belonging to the Samajwadi Party.
  • On 10 March 2020, leaders of the BJP met the Speaker of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly and handed over what purported to be the resignation letters of twenty-two Members belonging to the INC.
  • On 13 March 2020, the Chief Minister addressed a communication to the Governor alleging that following a foiled attempt on 3/4 March 2020 to allure Members owing allegiance to the INC, the BJP had on 8 March 2020 arranged three chartered aircraft “to whisk away” nineteen Members to Bengaluru.
  • On 14 March 2020, the INC issued a three-line whip to ensure the presence of all its Members in the forthcoming Budget Session and to vote for and support the government.
  • On 15 March 2020, the Governor addressed a further communication to the Chief Minister that since the facility for mechanically recording votes (through the “press of a button”) was not available, the trust vote should be taken by the raising of hands.
  • On 16 March 2020, the Governor recorded that despite his earlier letter dated 14 March 2020, the Chief Minister did not initiate the process of proving his majority on the house floor and the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly were adjourned to 26 March 2020. He asked the Chief Minister to have the floor test carried out on 17 March 2020 and to establish his majority.
  • On 19 March 2020, the Supreme Court had ordered a floor test in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly to be held on March 20, following which Chief Minister Kamal Nath tendered his resignation. Bharatiya Janata Party leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan had later taken oath as the new state Chief Minister.

[Shivraj Singh Chouhan v. Speaker, Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 363, decided on 13.04.2020]

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