Citing several media reports claiming that the Maharashtra government doesn’t have the requisite numbers to run the government, state Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on Wednesday wrote to the Maharashtra Legislature Secretary to summon a special session at the floor of the Assembly House at 11 am on Thursday where the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government shall be required to prove whether it shares the confidence of the legislature. The Governor, in the letter, also pointed out that the Leader of Opposition, BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, and 7 other ‘Independent’ MLAs have brought to his notice that the Uddhav-led government doesn’t share the confidence of the Lower House any longer.
Following the announcement, Eknath Shinde, the leader of the dissident Shiv Sena camp, said that he would be arriving with 50 MLAs from Guwahati to Mumbai ahead of the floor test. Meanwhile, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut has claimed that the floor test is illegal as the matter regarding the disqualification of 16 rebel MLAs is before the Supreme Court. The party’s chief whip Sunil Prabhu’s petition challenging the Governor’s decision to order a floor test tomorrow will be heard by the Supreme Court at 5 PM today. As Maharashtra gears up for the all-important floor test, here are the rules and processes involved in conducting a floor test or trust vote on the floor of an assembly.
What is a floor test?
Floor test or a “No Confidence Motion” is always conducted on the floor of the House to check if the government of the day, i.e. the Executive, shares the confidence of at least 51% of the members present in the House, i.e the Legislature. In Maharashtra’s case, the no-confidence motion against the MVA government will be held on the floor of the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha. If the Uddhav Thackeray government fails to prove its majority on the floor of the House, then the Chief Minister, along with his Council of Ministers, shall have to step down from their respective offices. Under Article 164 of the Indian constitution, “the council of ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly of the State.” A no-confidence motion can be passed in the Lower Houses only — Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas.
How is a ‘no-confidence motion’ moved?
The process is explained under rule 198 of the Lok Sabha. Though there is no mention of the term ‘No confidence motion’ or ‘floor test’ in the Constitution, Articles 75 and 164 do mention that the executive — both at the Centre and state — is collectively responsible to their respective legislatures. Any member from the Opposition can move the no-confidence motion against the ruling government. The motion has to receive the backing of at least 50 members before it is accepted and subsequently, a date for the discussion of the motion is announced by the Speaker, which has to be within 10 days from the date of acceptance.
Role of the Governor and related Supreme Court judgments
In the 2018 Shivraj Chouhan vs Speaker speaker case, the Supreme Court ruled that a Governor can ask for a floor test if he/she believes, based on facts, that the government no longer shares the confidence of the legislature. The apex court has also stated that the Governor, in no way, shall favour any party when it comes to the timing of the trust vote.
The top court has also specified that the Governor can go ahead and call for a trust vote even if there are cases of disqualification of rebel MLAs pending before the Speaker of the House, and not wait for the Speaker’s decision. In the same case, the SC also ruled that whether the Governor has “relevant and germane material” to summon a floor test is up for judicial scrutinty.
In the landmark S.R. Bommai case, the Supreme Court ruled that the refusal of the Chief Minister to undergo the floor test will be considered as the Government losing the faith of its own legislature. In the 2019 Pratap Gowda Patil vs State of Karnataka case, the top court ruled that the rebel MLAs have the right to skip the floor test voting process in the House. Under provisions of Article 174, the Governor has the power to dissolve the Assembly at his own discretion, when the state government doesn’t enjoy the majority in the House.