“The collective trust in the legislature is founded on the bedrock of the constitutional trust”. With Eknath Shinde becoming Chief Minister, finally, we have an outcome of the political turmoil going on in Maharashtra for the past 10 days. Amidst the entire ordeal, we kept reading about the possibility of a floor test being conducted, a term not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution but a tool devised to check that the government enjoys the confidence of the legislative body (representative of the people).
In light of the current political crisis in Maharashtra, this blog deals with the applicability of the floor test and concerning issues surrounding it.
What is a floor test?
A floor test is a tool to check whether the executive is enjoying the Legislative's confidence. The said tool reflects the ideology of collective responsibility. It is not a constitutional mandate to have an absolute majority, thus even a coalition government can be formed, however, the government formed should enjoy the confidence of the legislature. So whenever, the majority is at stake, the government has to prove its majority. The Chief Minister moves a motion of vote confidence, in which all the members present at the Assembly vote, leading to either establishing or failing majority. In case, the government fails to prove its majority, the Chief Minister has to resign. In 2019, Karnataka CM H D Kumaraswamy resigned after he failed to prove the majority.
For instance, in Maharashtra, there are 285 seats in the Legislative Assembly, for a government to be formed, it needs to touch the mark of 143 seats, the MVA coalition (a coalition formed between Shiv Sena, NCP and INC) formed a government with a majority of 150 seats, when 40 MLA’s withdrew their support to the MVA coalition, thus bringing down the government’s majority, which led to calling for Floor Test.
Role of Governor
Governor can summon members of the Assembly and ask the Government to prove its majority by conducting a floor Test.
Article 174 confers on the Governor the power to summon, dissolve or prorogue any House of Legislative Assembly. Article 175 gives the Governor the power to address any House of Legislative Assembly.
In Shiv Sena & Ors v Union of India & Ors (2019), the Supreme Court held that the Governor can direct the floor test immediately to prevent horse-trading and to protect democratic values.
The Supreme Court in Shivraj Singh Chouhan vs Speaker Madhya Pradesh, 2020 clarified that the Governor is empowered to issue a direction to an incumbent Chief Minister to hold a floor test and to demonstrate.
Article 163(2) grants Governor discretionary powers though limited by Article 163(1), which states that the Governor should act on aid and advice of the Chief Minister and Council of Ministers. The apex court, in its judgment in Nabam Rebia & Bamang Felix v. Deputy Speaker, Arunachal Legislative Assembly (2016), held that the Governor can exercise his/ her constitutional powers without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers led by the Chief Minister if there are sufficient reasons to believe that the government has lost the confidence of the House.
However, it is pertinent to know the Governor's satisfaction with the floor test is not immune from judicial review. In Shivraj Singh Chouhan vs Speaker Madhya Pradesh, the Apex Court held that The decision of the Governor to do so is not immune from judicial review and must therefore withstand the ability to be scrutinized on the touchstone of the circumstances being relevant, germane and not extraneous to the exercise of an exceptional power which is vested in the Governor.
After 40 MLAs withdrew support from the MVA government, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari asked the State Legislative Assembly to convene a special Assembly to conduct a floor test.
Court’s Power to call for Floor Test
There are numerous instances where the Supreme Court ordered a Floor Test by Assemblies. In Jagdambika Pal vs Union Of India And Others, the Apex Court ordered Uttar Pradesh Assembly to be summoned/convened e to have a composite floor-test between the contending parties in order to see which out of the two contesting claimants of Chief Ministership has a majority in the House.
In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994), the apex court observed- “..In our opinion, 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…”
In Anil Kumar Jha v. Union of India, (2005), SC ordered the Jharkhand State Assembly, to have a floor test between the contending political alliances in order to see which of the political parties or alliance has a majority in the House and hence a claim for Chief Ministership.
If we analyze all the instances in recent years, where floor tests were conducted, we can see a common phenomenon, i.e. coalition government. The situation reflects the problem in the coalition government and how it is prone to instability, often failing in proving a majority as we witnessed in the States of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.
Another glaring issue is MLA’s changing parties, although we have anti-defection law to tackle the same but only negative precedents have been set by using the escape clause in the set law. A stricter regime of laws addressing the
If we take into account the Maharashtra crisis, if a significant number of members were not in consonance with the decision of Shiv Sena merging with INC and NCP, then they should have voiced their opinion beforehand, not only the entire ordeal resulted in disruption of harmony and imbalance in state of democracy but would bring mockery to the very institute of democracy. Then there is also the issue of wastage of resources, like immediately after taking the oath, the deputy CM overturned the decision of the former government.