Context:The Supreme Court recently held that the governor of a state was well within their rights to call for a floor test during an assembly session.
- In Madhya Pradesh, after the resignation of several members of Congress(Also accepted by speaker), the former chief minister had refused to conduct a floor test despite the House having been convened.
- Considering this SC held that In the given case the Governor was right in ordering the floor test.
- The court did not accept the Speaker's counsel argument that the governor cannot pass an order.
- SC argued that ‘Governor is not taking any decision by himself, Governor is just calling a floor test.’
More about the S.C. judgement
- Regarding when the floor test can be conducted:
- SC held that a Governor can call for a floor test any time he objectively feels a government in power has lost the confidence of the House and is on shaky ground.
- The governor can exercise this power not just when a state assembly is in a crisis but during a sitting assembly as well.
- Entitlement of a court:
- It 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.’
- Grounds for initiating trust vote:
- The Governor can call for a trust vote if he has arrived at a prima facie opinion, based on objective material, that the incumbent State government has lost its majority in the Assembly.
- Other relevant directions by SC:
- Governor’s power to call for a floor test is not restricted only before the inception of a State government immediately after elections, but continues throughout its term.
- SC also clarified that the Governor’s requirement to have a trust vote does not “short circuit” any disqualification proceedings pending before the Speaker.
- It said a Governor need not wait for the Speaker’s decision on the resignation of rebel MLAs before calling for a trust vote.
Significance of the judgement
- It could set a precedent for such tussles in government formation at the state level where political parties have been arguing with the governor of the state.
- Possible fulfillment of Intention behind trust vote:
- The idea underlying the trust vote is to uphold the political accountability of the elected government to the State legislature.
- It enables the elected representatives to determine if the Council of Ministers commanded the confidence of the House.
About the floor test
What is it?
A floor test is a motion through which the government of the day seeks to know whether it still enjoys the confidence of the legislature.
In this procedure, a CM appointed by the Governor can be asked to prove majority on the floor of the Legislative Assembly of the state.
The chief minister has to move a vote of confidence and win a majority among those present and voting.
If the confidence motion fails to pass, the chief minister has to resign.
Modes of voting
1. Voice vote: In a voice vote, the legislators respond orally.
2. Division vote: In case of a division vote, voting is done using electronic gadgets, slips or in a ballot box.
3. Ballot vote: Ballot box is usually a secret vote - just like how people vote during state or parliamentary elections.
Composite Floor Test
If there is more than one person staking claim to form the government and the majority is not clear, the governor may call for a special session to see who has the majority.
Some legislators may be absent or choose not to vote. In such a case, the majority is counted based on those present and voting.
Role of protem speaker
The pro-tem speaker's role is crucial in conducting a floor test.
Conventionally, the longest serving House member is nominated as pro tem speaker, whose role is limited to administering oaths to new MLAs and conducting the election of the full-time speaker.
Evolution of Floor Test in India
S.R Bommai Case,1994
- Concept of floor test was established in this case.
- In this case, it was alleged that the Janata Party government led by Bommai did not enjoy a majority in the Karnataka legislature.
- The court held that, wherever a doubt arises whether the Council of Ministers has lost the confidence of the House, the only way of testing it is on the floor of the House.
Jagdambika Pal vs Union of India,1999
- In 1996, the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections resulted in none of the contesting parties winning a clear majority.
- The matter had come to the Supreme Court after the UP Governor had sacked Kalyan Singh as chief minister and appointed Congress leader Jagdambika Pal as his successor.
- SC ordered a composite floor test between contending parties in order to see which out of the two contesting claimants of chief ministership had a majority in the House.
Anil Kumar Jha vs Union of India,2005
- The contest was between Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Shibu Soren and the NDA’s Arjun Munda.
- The Governor had invited Soren to form the government while Munda claimed that he commanded a majority in the House.
- SC advanced the date of floor test and again issued similar instructions like in earlier cases.
Union of India vs Harish Chandra Singh Rawat,2016
- A few rebel MLAs from the Congress party alleged that an appropriation Bill was passed without the government enjoying a majority in the legislature.
- Thereafter, President’s Rule was imposed in the State.
- SC suspended the president's rule for two hours and ordered a floor test.
Chandrakant Kavlekar v Union of India,2017
- The BJP had won 13 of the 40 seats in the Goa legislature and had claimed the support of smaller parties for forming the government.
- The Supreme Court, while ordering a floor test in this case, held, “The holding of the floor test would remove all possible ambiguities, and would result in giving the democratic process the required credibility.”