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Tuesday 7 April 2020

INC withdraws ‘letter of 154 MLAs’ support’ from court

Devendra Fadnavis was given time until 7 December, the advocate of BJP said, while that of INC made a claim only to retract it in the court

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When the Supreme Court on Monday told Abhishek Manu Singhvi it would have to question the 154 MLAs he claimed were supporting an NCP-INC-Shiv Sena government, the advocate of the INC promptly withdrew the ‘letter of support’ that he had already submitted in the court. On its part, the apex court did not appear to be making much of the petition filed by the INC (and supported by the Shiv Sena) that had demanded a floor test in the Assembly as soon as possible.

The court will pronounce its verdict in the case on Tuesday.

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BJP vs INC debate: Singhvi concedes a point

On Monday, there was a heated debate in the court where the lawyers of the BJP, as well as the NCP, urged not to hurry about the floor test. However, the debate revealed that Governor BS Koshyari had given BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis 14 days to prove his majority in the House.

Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Devendra Fadnavis, appealed to the court that the Assembly’s well laid down procedure ought to be followed for the floor test. He demanded that first the pro-tem speaker should be elected; then the MLAs must take the oath of office and secrecy; then there should be the election of for the speaker, followed by the governor’s address and finally the floor test.

Rohatgi told the court that 14 days were given by the governor to Fadnavis to prove he enjoyed the support of the majority in the Assembly. Till now, it was believed that the deadline was 30 November.

Fadnavis took the oath in the morning of 23 November; the count of 14 days begins from that day. Accordingly, Fadnavis has until 7 December to prove he has the support of the majority.

The advocates of the INC, NCP and Shiv Sena were expected not to agree with the proposition. Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that in many such cases, the Supreme Court had asked the party called to form the government by the governor to prove its majority in 24 hours or 48 hours. In this case, too, there should be no exception. Singhvi said, “Everything will be proved in the floor test.”

Singhvi argued that if both sides were ready for the floor test, there was no reason for a delay. He submitted letters of support of 154 MLAs to the court, but the court was not impressed.

The apex court said that in such a situation, it would have to question these MLAs as well. This made Singhvi withdraw the letter.

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The INC and NCP have held throughout that the court should order an immediate appointment of the pro-tem speaker. The rest of the order in which things should happen, according to them, is the same as that stated by Rohatgi: then the MLAs could take the oath and finally the floor test can be conducted.

Solicitor-general’s arguments

Earlier, as scheduled, solicitor-general Tushar Mehta came to the court at 10:30 AM and began his presentation as the Supreme Court had demanded of the Centre (as well as the State of Maharashtra).

Mehta handed over the letters of Maharashtra Governor Koshyari and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to the Supreme Court. He asked if the governor’s decision could be challenged in any petition under Article 32. The governor waited till 9 November, said the S-G, and asked the Shiv Sena on the 10th whether it could form the government. It refused, Mehta said. On 11 November, the NCP refused, too, the S-G recalled. Subsequently, President’s rule was imposed, he explained.

The letter Ajit Pawar had given to the governor had signatures of 54 MLAs. Now the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, Pawar Jr had described himself as the leader of the NCP Legislature Party in the letter. The governor did not need to examine the letter he had received, Mehta argued. He decided to call Devendra Fadnavis for government formation, the S-G- explained, based on the documents laid before him.

“Of course, the floor test is the best, but no party can say that the floor test should be held within 24 hours. Give us two or three days’ time. Allow filing the answer. The governor of Maharashtra had the privilege of inviting the largest party on 23 November,” Mehta said

“Assembly procedures like the election of a pro-tem speaker cannot be interfered with,” Mehta said. The Supreme Court cannot ask the governor of Maharashtra to conduct a floor test within 24 hours, he added, insisting that “the floor test cannot be done tomorrow”.

“The governor has given 14 days. The proper time should be seven days,” Mehta added.

The Supreme Court will now pronounce its verdict in the case on Tuesday.

In the latest development, the BJP claims they have the support of more than 160 MLAs.

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