Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde on Monday won the floor test in the state assembly. In the 288-member house, 164 MLAs voted for the motion of confidence while 99 voted against. The strength of the Maharashtra Assembly had been reduced to 287 following the death of a Shiv Sena MLAs, bringing the majority mark to 144.
Speaker Rahul Narwekar of the BJP who is also among the youngest speakers in the country, announced that the trust vote has been carried by a majority vote.
Shinde was sworn in as CM on June 30 after Uddhav Thackeray quit the post a day earlier. Former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP was sworn in as deputy CM.
Earlier Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray resigned from the post of Maharashtra CM after the Supreme Court allowed a floor test. Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari ordered a floor test on June 30 after he allegedly received a letter from 7 independent MLAs who had decided not to support the Maha Vikas Agadhi alliance put together by Shiv Sena with the Nationalist Congress Party and Indian National Congress after the fall of the BJP government under Devendra Fadnavis in November 2019.
Following the fall of the BJP government, the Shiv Sena with 56 seats formed the government with the support of NCP with 54 seats and INC with 44 seats besides several independents in the 288-seat assembly. Trouble began for the MVA government after rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde broke away from the Shiv Sena with at least 39 of the 56 Shiv Sena MLAs and formed the rebel outfit Shiv Sena Balasahib. This led to the BJP, which is the single largest party in the Maharashtra state assembly with 105 seats, pressing the Governor for a floor test.
A few days ago, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis met Governor Hoshiyari and claimed that MVA does not have the support of a majority of his MLAs and demanded a confidence motion or floor test to prove that he still has the support of more than half of the MLAs in the assembly, in this case 144 of the 287-member assembly as a Shiv Sena seat had recently fallen vacant following the death of an incumbent MLA.
What is a floor test? Who calls for one?
A floor test is a legislative procedure in which the ruling party of a state is required to prove on the floor of the assembly that it still has the support of a majority of the democratically elected legislators and thus is capable of running the government and has the mandate of the people. A floor test is usually necessary when the ruling party is suspected of having lost support of enough MLAs to prove majority in the house. In the case of the Maharashtra Assembly, the splitting of Eknath Shinde and his rebel MLAs cast doubts on whether the Uddhav Thackeray government still had the support of a majority of the legislators.
Article 175 (2) of the Indian Constitution states that the Governor may send messages to the House or Houses of the Legislature of the State, whether with respect to a Bill then pending in the Legislature or otherwise, and a House to which any message is so sent shall with all convenient despatch consider any matter required by the message to be taken into consideration. Under this provision, the Governor can schedule an out of turn assembly session and seek the Chief Minister prove that he enjoys the mandate of the people through a floor test. The protocols for summoning and conducting a floor test varies from state to state and depends on the assembly rules of the corresponding state legislature.
According to Rule 95 (1) of Maharashtra State Assembly Rules 2015, a member who desires to move for leave to make a motion expressing want of confidence in the Council of Ministers or a motion disapproving the Policy of the Council of Ministers in a particular respect shall give written notice of such motion. Rule 95 (2) states that if the motion is admitted by the Speaker, leave to make the motion may be asked for on such day not later than two days after it is admitted, if the Assembly is in session as the Speaker may appoint, after questions and before the list of business for the day is entered upon: Half-an hour discussion on a matter of public importance. Motion regarding want of confidence in the Ministry provided that if the notice of such motion is received when the Assembly is not in session, the leave to make the motion may be asked for on a day not later than two days after the commencement of the session, as the Speaker may appoint.
According to Rule 95 (3), after the member has asked for leave of the Assembly to make the motion, the Speaker shall read the motion to the Assembly and request those members who are in favour of leave being granted to rise in their seats, and if not less than 29 members rise accordingly, the Speaker shall intimate that leave is granted and that the motion will be taken on such day, not being earlier than three days and more than seven days from the day on which leave is asked, as he may appoint. If less than 29 members rise, the Speaker shall inform the member who has given notice of the motion that he has not the leave of the Assembly.
In Shivraj Singh Chouhan v. Speaker, Legislative Assembly of Madhya Pradesh And Ors., the Supreme Court had specifically clarified that the Governor is empowered to issue a direction to an incumbent Chief Minister to hold a floor test to demonstrate the legislature's trust in the government. In its verdict, the SC held in April 2020 that the power exercised by the Governor of Madhya Pradesh to convene the Assembly for a floor test could not be regarded as constitutionally improper.
The ground breaking SR Bommai Case Verdict and Floor Tests
Between August 1988 and April 1989, S.R. Bommai was the Chief Minister of the Janata Dal government in Karnataka. His government was dismissed under Article 356 of the Constitution and President’s Rule was imposed, in what was then a common strategy deployed to keep unfriendly parties out of power by the centre. The dismissal was on grounds that the Bommai government had lost majority following several defections Karnataka Governor P. Venkatasubbaiah refused to give Bommai an opportunity to test his majority in the Assembly despite the latter presenting him with a copy of the resolution passed by the Janata Dal Legislature Party.
Bommai went to Karnataka HC and then SC against the Governor’s decision to recommend President’s Rule. In March 1994, a nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court issued a historic order, which put an end to the dismissal of State governments under Article 356 for trivial reasons. The verdict concluded that the power of the President to dismiss a State government was not absolute and that the floor of the assembly was the only forum to test whether an elected government had a majority.
This verdict first introduced the concept of floor tests. The SC order, referring to Article 164 (2) which mandates that the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly of the State, interpreted that the ultimate test of majority was only on the floor of the House. Thus paving the way for state governments to prove their majority through a floor test instead of going by a Governor's opinion.
Since then, several state governments have missed the axe as long as they have been able to prove their majority on the assembly floor. In 2019 too, the BJP government in Maharashtra led by Devendra Fadnavis rushed to the SC to buy more time for a floor test but was eventually forced to resign.