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Congress moves SC seeking access to rebel MLAs

Hearing on ex-chief minister Chouhan’s plea to hold immediate floor test on Wednesday, 10.30am
Taking note of the “urgency of the situation”, a bench comprising Justice D. Y. Chandrachud and Justice Hemant Gupta issued notices to chief minister Kamal Nath, Speaker N.P. Prajapati and principal secretary of the Assembly on Tuesday and will hear the plea at 10.30am on Wednesday.

PTI   |   New Delhi   |   Published 17.03.20, 11:57 AM

Madhya Pradesh Congress moved the Supreme Court on Tuesday seeking a direction to the Centre and the BJP-led Karnataka government to grant it the access to communicate with its rebel MLAs.

The party’s move came after the apex court asked the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh to respond by Wednesday to a plea by senior BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan seeking immediate floor test in the state Assembly.

The state Congress, in its plea, urged the apex court to declare as illegal the action of the Centre, the Karnataka government and the BJP's state unit of illegally confining its MLAs in Bengaluru.

It also sought a direction for allowing its rebel MLAs to participate in the ongoing budget session.

The trust vote should be held only in the presence of all the duly elected MLAs of the state Assembly, said the plea filed by MLA Govind Singh, the chief whip of the Congress legislature party in the Assembly.

It said the communications of Governor Lalji Tandon asking the government to hold trust vote be declared as “illegal and unconstitutional”.

Earlier in the day, taking note of the “urgency of the situation”, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justice D. Y. Chandrachud and Justice Hemant Gupta issued notices to chief minister Nath, Speaker N.P. Prajapati and principal secretary of the Assembly and said that it would hear the plea at 10.30am on Wednesday.

Email notices allowed

Chouhan, who is former chief minister of the state, and nine BJP lawmakers, including leader of the Opposition and BJP's chief whip in the Assembly, knocked the doors of the top court on Monday just after the Speaker cited coronavirus concerns and adjourned the House till March 26 without taking the floor test, apparently defying the directions of Governor Lalji Tandon.

“We have heard Mukul Rohatgi, senior counsel, along with Mishra Saurabh, advocate-on-record appearing on behalf of the petitioners (Chouhan and others). Issue notice. In view of the urgency of the situation, the notice is made returnable at 10:30 am on 18 March 2020,” the bench said in its order.

The top court allowed Chouhan to serve the notice on the state government and others “through e-mail in addition to the usual mode of service”. It also allowed 16 rebel Congress lawmakers, who have purportedly tendered their resignations to the Speaker, to file an application seeking impleadment as parties to the plea filed by Chouhan.

Senior advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the rebel Congress MLAs, said the resignations of six lawmakers, out of 22, had already been accepted and there was no reason for not accepting the resignations of the 16 MLAs.

“Maninder Singh, senior counsel, states that he would be filing an application for impleadment on behalf of the 16 MLAs who, it is submitted, have tendered their resignations. A copy of the application... shall be served on the contesting parties in the same mode as the petition under Article 32 of the Constitution. List the writ petition at 10:30 am tomorrow (18 March 2020),” the apex court's order said.

‘Travesty of democracy’

At the outset, Rohatgi, appearing for the senior BJP leader and three-time chief minister, said: “The rationale in this case is that a floor test is required and usually the other side appears in such cases.

“This case represents complete travesty of democracy. The other side deliberately did not appear,” he said, referring to the fact that nobody for the chief minister and the state government appeared in the court.

He said the apex court had in the past heard such a case during night hours and the floor test were ordered. Taking note of the submissions, the bench said, “We will have to issue a short notice and keep it for tomorrow morning.”

The plea alleged that after the resignations of 22 Congress MLAs the government has lost the majority in the House and “it has no moral, legal, democratic or constitutional right to remain in power even for a single day”.

The plea has sought a direction to the Speaker, the chief minister and the principal secretary of the Assembly to “hold the floor test in the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly within 12 hours of the passing of the order by this court and as directions...issued by Governor”.

It alleged that all possible attempts were being made by Nath to convert “his minority government into majority by giving all possible threats, allurements to the members of the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha”.

Horse trading at peak

It said the horse-trading was at its peak and hence, it was essential that the floor test was conducted on March 16 itself as already directed by the Governor, so that it becomes absolutely clear as to whether the state government continued to enjoy the confidence of the majority of house. Any deferment of the floor test would further encourage “horse trading” and would be in utter violation of the directions issued by the Governor, law laid down by this court and the spirit and basic structure of the Constitution of India, it added.

The plea alleged that the Speaker, the chief minister and the principal secretary of the Assembly have “flagrantly violated constitutional principles and have deliberately and wilfully defied the directions” issued by the governor asking the government to prove the majority on the floor of the House on March 16 when the budget session was to commence.

Besides Chouhan, nine other BJP MLAs, including leader of Opposition in the Assembly Gopal Bhargava and chief whip of BJP in the Assembly Narottam Mishra, are parties to the petition.

House strength

On Saturday night, Governor Lalji Tandon wrote to Nath asking him to seek a trust vote in the Assembly soon after the Governor's address on Monday, saying his government was in minority. “The above work must be completed under any circumstances on March 16, 2020 and it should not be adjourned, delayed or suspended,” he had said in the letter.

After the Speaker accepted the resignation of six Congress MLAs on Saturday, the party now has 108 legislators. These include 16 rebel legislators who have also put in their papers but their resignations are yet to be accepted.

The BJP has 107 seats in the House, which now has an effective strength of 222, with the majority mark being 112.

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