Ahead of the resignation of Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray, the Supreme Court on Wednesday, 29 June, refused to stay the floor test ordered by the Maharashtra governor against the beleaguered Sena-NCP-Congress government.
However, the court did say that it was issuing notice in the petitions, and that the floor test proceedings would be subject to the final outcome in the writ petition filed by Shiv Sena Chief Whip Sunil Prabhu.
Pointing out that it is not of the opinion that the matter will become infructuous post the floor test, the court orally said:
"Suppose if we find later that floor test was conducted without authority, we can annul it. It is not an irreversible situation."
The top court bench of Justices Surya Kant and JB Pardiwala also allowed incarcerated NCP leaders Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh to participate in the floor test. Since they are in judicial custody in cases registered by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), respectively, both the agencies have been asked to escort them and bring them back to judicial custody once the proceedings are over.
Meanwhile, shortly after the top court order, Uddhav Thackeray stepped down as the chief minister of the state.
The Court's Order
As per the text of the order uploaded later at night, the top court said: "having given our thoughtful consideration to the rival submissions":
"We do not find any ground to stay convening of the Special Session of the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha on 3062022, i.e, tomorrow at 11.00 am. with the only agenda of a trust vote"
"The proceedings of the trust vote to be convened on 30-62022 shall be subject to the final outcome of the instant Writ Petition as well the Writ Petitions referred to above"
"The Special Session of the Maharashtra Vidha Sabha shall be conducted in accordance with the directions as contained in the communication dated 2862022 of the Governor of Maharashtra”
The Governor's Order & the Petition Against it
As political turmoil gripped the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari wrote to the Maharashtra Assembly Secretary Rajendra Bhagwat on Wednesday, calling for a special session at 11 am Thursday for the Uddhav Thackeray-led government to prove its majority.
Following this, the Shiv Sena moved the Supreme Court against the floor test order issued by Koshyari.
The petition filed on behalf of Shiv Sena whip Sunil Prabhu alleges that the Maharashtra governor acted with undue haste, and says:
"The Hon’ble Governor ought to have deferred the convening of the House to a date beyond the adjudication by this Hon’ble Court of the challenge to the disqualification petitions, which has been listed for further consideration on 11 July 2022, as well as, the adjudication of the disqualification petitions which have been extended till 12 July 2022."
Arguments in the Court
SUNIL PRABHU'S COUNSEL Dr AM SINGHVI:
Appearing for Prabhu, senior advocate Dr AM Singhvi asked: "Will heavens fall if there is no floor test tomorrow?"
He also informed the court that two NCP MLAs had tested positive for COVID-19 whereas two Congress MLAs were abroad. Thus, they cannot be expected to be available for the floor test at one day's notice.
Further, Singhvi pointed out:
"The people who have changed sides and defected cannot represent the will of the people. Can the governor not trust the court to not call a floor test tomorrow?"
Arguing against the floor test being carried out without determining who the disqualified are, Singhvi asked:
"Will it not amount to putting the cart before the horse, if voting is allowed to proceed without determining who all are eligible to vote?"
EKNATH SHINDE'S COUNSEL NEERAJ KISHAN KAUL
Meanwhile Senior Advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for Eknath Shinde, argued in the court:
"It is well settled that a floor test should not be delayed. Merely because of pendency of proceedings relating to whether MLA has resigned or 10th schedule is no ground to interdict floor test. Supreme Court has held both are distinct issues."
SOLICITOR GENERAL, APPEARING FOR MAHARASHTRA GOVERNOR
Appearing for the Maharashtra Governor (who had in the first place called for the floor test), the Solicitor General added:
"The Governor has taken into consideration various letters sent to him. In totality, he is satisfied...that you have to immediately go to the floor of the house."
More From the Court: Reliance on the Shivraj Singh Chouhan Case
Heavy reliance was placed during the course of the hearing on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan case where the Supreme Court had ordered a floor test in Madhya Pradesh (MP) Assembly in 2020.
While Kaul cited it to argue that disqualification proceedings have no bearing on the floor test, Singhvi's contention was that even though the Supreme Court had, in that case, held that floor test can be conducted before disqualifications are decided, the significant difference was that the MP Speaker was a "free agent."
"Unlike the Madhya Pradesh case, Speaker is not a free agent now as your lordships have stopped him," Singhvi said, and added:
"Justice can be done either if the fetter on the Speaker is lifted or if the floor test is deferred."
Uddhav Thackeray Steps Down
Shortly after the Supreme Court order, Uddhav Thackeray stepped down as the chief minister of the state. He also announced his resignation as the Member of the Legislative Council (MLC).
In an address to the people of the state via Facebook live, Thackeray said:
"I had come in an unexpected manner and I am going out in a similar fashion. I am not going away forever, I will be here, and I will once again sit in Shiv Sena Bhawan. I will gather all my people. I am resigning as the CM and as an MLC."
Meanwhile, rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde said on Wednesday that he would reach Mumbai on Thursday for the floor test.
"In the backdrop of the disturbing political scenario" unfolding in Maharashtra, a special session of the Vidhan Sabha shall be convened with the only agenda of a "no trust vote against the Chief Minister," the governor wrote in his letter.
The majority mark is currently at 144 in the 287-member Assembly. The ruling alliance has 152 MLAs. The ruling government will be in minority without the nearly 40 rebel MLAs.
The Governor's Letter
Governor Koshyari cited an email from seven independent MLAs that said that the Uddhav Thackeray "had lost the confidence of the majority on the floor" of the house, making it "imperative to conduct a floor test at the earliest."
He also wrote about the violence unleashed on the house of the 39 rebel MLAs and added that as the "Constitutional Head it was his responsibility to ensure that the Government continues to function with the confidence of the House."
According to the letter, the floor test will be telecast live, and the proceedings will be recorded on camera by the Vidhan Sabha Secretariat through an independent agency.
'Floor Test Order Unlawful,' Says Raut
Meanwhile, Sena spokesperson and MP Sanjay Raut alleged that the floor test order was unlawful.
"This is jet speed activity. There are some files lying with the Governor for the past two and a half years, no progress in those. The Governor was waiting for this moment. This is an unlawful activity," Sena spokesperson and MP Sanjay Raut told the media on Wednesday.
"The issue of disqualification of MLAs is pending with the Supreme Court. The court had asked to not change status quo till 11 July and asked us to approach it if any unlawful activities are done before that. If the Governor's house colludes with the BJP and violates the Constitution and the Assembly's sanctity, the SC will have to intervene. We will approach the Supreme Court and ask for justice. We trust the apex court," he said.
"I respect the Governor and I understand that he is under somebody's pressure," Raut said.
He further said that Fadnavis was aiming to destabilise the government since the day it was formed.
'Will Go to Mumbai on Thursday,' Says Shinde
Shinde told reporters in Guwahati that he will reach Mumbai along with all his rebel MLAs.
"We will go to Mumbai on Thursday to complete the formalities," he said.
The rebel Shiv Sena MLAs, who have been camping in Guwahati for last one week, are likely to leave for Goa this afternoon, and then go to Mumbai.
A SpiceJet aircraft has been hired and the flight is expected to leave Guwahati's Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport for Goa's Dabolim airport at around 3 pm, sources privy to the development told PTI.
Shinde, who stepped out of the hotel in Guwahati, said he had offered prayers at the Kamakhya temple for peace and prosperity of people of Maharashtra.