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The Supreme Court of India. (Photo: Mint)
The Supreme Court of India. (Photo: Mint)

Top court upholds MP governor’s floor test call in setback for Nath

  • Supreme Court says governors well within their rights to call for a floor test during an assembly session
  • SC rejects Congress’ claim that governor has limited power in running of the assembly

NEW DELHI : In a major relief to chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his government in Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court on Monday held that the governor of a state was well within their rights to call for a floor test during an assembly session. The decision comes as a setback to Singh’s predecessor Kamal Nath whose government lost the majority after more than 20 Congress legislators resigned from the assembly.

The top court rejected Nath’s and the Congress party’s contention that the governor has limited powers, restricted to summoning, proroguing and dissolving the house and that it is for the Speaker to manage the functioning of the assembly.

The development is significant because it could set a precedent for such tussles in government formation at the state level where political parties have often been at loggerheads with the governor of the state. In the past year, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have witnessed political crises over government formation. The apex court bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, in a detailed 68-page judgement on Monday, said there was no impediment to a governor asking a chief minister to prove majority if he had good reasons to believe so. The division bench also added that a governor can exercise this power not just when a state assembly is in a crisis but during a sitting assembly as well. However, the two judges observed in the order that the court is entitled to determine whether in calling for the floor test, the governor did so on the basis of “objective material and reasons which were relevant and germane to the exercise of the power."

The judges while elaborating on the powers of the Governor stated that the Governor is not denuded of the power to order a floor test where on the basis of the material available to the governor it becomes evident that the issue as to whether the government commands the confidence of the house requires to be assessed on the basis of a floor test.

“In fact in this case the Governor was right in ordering floor test. We have not accepted Speaker’s counsel Dr. Singhvi’s argument that governor cannot pass order. Governor is not taking any decision by himself, Governor is just calling a floor test," said Chandrachud.

“The Supreme Court has given an order; we will have to go through it before making a detailed comment. But it seems that the SC order reflects the clear position of the assembly and the fact that Congress led government had lost majority and the right to remain in power. Congress tried to delay the process but it was the timely intervention by governor which allowed the floor test. If Congress was so confident, Kamal Nath should not have resigned," said a senior BJP leader based in Bhopal.

“The regime in Madhya Pradesh was changed through unfair means and the people of the state are well aware of it. The apex court’s order on issues like this is final and we would not like to comment on it," a senior leader of Congress party said requesting anonymity.

Based on the resignation of six ministers of the incumbent government (accepted by the Speaker), the resignation of sixteen more Congress members and the refusal of the chief minister to conduct a floor test despite the House having been convened on 16 March 2020, the exercise of power by the governor to convene a floor test cannot be regarded as constitutionally improper, the court said.

Gyan Varma & Anuja contributed to the story.

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