The Supreme Court has reserved its order on the Maharashtra floor test for 10.30 am Tuesday after hearing the plea filed by the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine against the Maharashtra governor's decision to swear in Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister.
On Monday morning, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta for the Centre submitted letters of Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari and Fadnavis as directed by the bench comprising Justices N V Ramana, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna.
At the outset, the apex court said it is not considering the prayer of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine that they be invited to form government in Maharashtra.
Mehta also informed the bench that as per Governor's communication to Fadnavis, the former acknowledged that the BJP leader had the support of 170 MLAs including 54 NCP MLAs.
"I have the original documents with me. Shiv Sena has 56, NCP 54, INC 44 seats. There was talk about horse-trading but Governor possibly felt that the entire stable is stolen. I'm seeking time to file a reply as there are questions that need to be discussed," said Mehta.
Maharashtra Deputy CM and rebel NCP leader Ajit Pawar was represented separately.
Mehta, appearing for the Governor's office only, also sought time to the apex court to file a detailed reply on the whole matter.
Letter by Congress-NCP -Shiv Sena given at Raj Bhawan staking claim to form government, saying that the present govt doesn't have the numbers. pic.twitter.com/bpgifp6xQG— ANI (@ANI) November 25, 2019
He also submitted letters given by Ajit Pawar and independent MLAs to the Governor. Pawar's letter has 54 signatures.
"Ajit Pawar's November 22 letter to the Governor reads that he needs a stable government and President's rule can't go on indefinitely; letter says BJP had earlier asked Ajit Pawar to join them to form the government but at that time he had declined due to insufficient support from NCP MLAs," Mehta said.
"The Governor then wrote to the President and requested the revocation of the President's Rule. The Governor in his wisdom invited the leader of the largest party. Devendra Fadnavis has the support of 170 MLAs. The present position is Governor has invited the majority alliance in the House to form the government. Devendra Fadnavis staked the claim following the letter of Ajit Pawar along with letters of support of 11 independent and other MLAs," he further added.
Mehta concluded his arguments by stating the Governor had no reason to disbelieve the Deputy CM.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for Fadnavis, in his arguments said, "One Pawar with me and now the other Pawar has come here before the court. It’s their family feud or what? It's not me indulging in horse-trading, they are."
"The Governor acted bona fide and it is his discretion to give time for a floor test. SC has no jurisdiction to enter that arena," Rohatgi said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in his arguments said, "Nobody is denying that the floor test will be the ultimate test. But it’s going to be a test on the floor, not in the Governor's house. It’s the prerogative of the speaker to hold the floor test."
"Grant us two-three days' time and let us file a reply. The Governor has in absolute discretion invited the largest party on November 23," he added.
One of the judges observed that the issue was whether Fadnavis enjoys majority support in the House and agreed that this could only be decided through a floor test.
Justice Sanjiv Khanna said, "While citing the past judgment of the court in similar cases, floor test was done in 24 hours in most of the cases, in some - 48 hours."
Senior Counsel Maninder Singh, while arguing for Ajit Pawar, said, "I (Pawar) was authorised to lend support on the day I gave that letter. I will resolve disputes within my party. I am the NCP. As the leader of the party, I am entitled to take a call on these issues."
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, while arguing for the Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP, started his arguments by saying, "We (the three parties) would have gone on November 23 to stake claim. What was the haste to revoke President's rule at 5 am. We have affidavits of 54 NCP MLAs."
Sibal also informed the apex court that Ajit Pawar, who was claiming of having the support of 54 NCP MLAs, now has been removed from that position by his party.
"I have affidavits of 154 MLAs of Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress extending their support to Uddhav Thackeray as the alliance leader," Sibal further said.
"Floor test should be conducted in 24 hours. Senior members of the House should conduct it with videography and a single ballot. It is in the cover of night that for some that new opportunities come knocking, Let the floor test be conducted in full light," he further added.
"Signatures provided by Ajit Pawar were those which had been given for his election as legislative party chief - not to support BJP. This is a fraud on democracy," senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.
"When both the groups are open for Floor Test, why should there be a delay? Does a single NCP MLA here say we will join the BJP alliance? Is there a single covering letter saying this. This was the fraud committed on democracy," he said.
What the BJP alliance has shown to court are signatures of 54 NCP MLAs electing Ajit Pawar as legislative party leader. They weren't signed support for joining BJP alliance to form a government. NCP support to Ajit Pawar was without any covering letter. How can Governor turn a blind eye to this," Singhvi said in his argument.
Solicitor General Mehta informed the bench that when a letter was submitted to the Governor to withdraw Ajit Pawar's authority, 12 signatures were missing.
"We will be happy to lose the floor test today. Proof of the pudding lies in the eating," Singhvi replied to Mehta.
Rohatgi countered the arguments by stating that the "SC cannot direct Governor to initiate the floor test within 24 hours. Court can only ask governor to advance the floor test,"
"Governor in this case has given 14 days for a floor test, reasonable time can be seven days. The most important thing right now is the procedure of appointment of Pro-tem Speaker, Oath, Election of Speaker, and Agenda," he further said.
(With ENS and Agencies Inputs)