Floor test in Legislative Assembly: Legal Angle

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 “I have decided to give my resignation to the Governor today. I do not believe in horse trading. I believe in moral policies.” This was said by the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Kamal Nath, while resigning from his position hours before the floor test which was scheduled to take place on March 20 at 5pm (IST). This is very similar to the case of Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr. Devendra Fadnavis who decided to quit before the floor test.

The Supreme Court on 19th March, 2020 ordered an immediate floor test for the Madhya Pradesh government led by Congress leader Mr. Kamal Nath to prove its majority in the Legislative Assembly of Madhya Pradesh. This order of the Supreme Court could finally put an end to the political drama which is been going on in Madhya Pradesh between the ruling Congress party and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) where both of the parties accused each other of not playing fairly by the rule book.

The Supreme Court directed the voting to be held by show of hands at 5pm on March 20, 2020 and that the proceedings should be video graphed and telecasted live.

What is Floor Test?

Floor Test is a Constitutional Mechanism. It is a test through which the executive i.e. the government, attempts to know whether it is still enjoying the confidence of the legislature or not. The Chief Minister appointed by the Governor, in this process can be asked to prove majority in the Legislative Assembly of the state.

The idea behind this is to make certain that there is transparency in the process of the constitution. The Governor appoints the leader of the party who secured the majority of the seats in the house of a particular state, as the Chief Minister of that state. If in any case the majority is challenged by any party, then the leader of the party claiming the majority must prove its majority by moving a vote of confidence among those present and voting. If the Chief Minister fails to prove its majority in the house, then he has to resign. This happens both in the Parliament and the Legislative Assemblies of the State.

Legal provisions

The floor test is a process in which the executive proves its majority to the legislature by passing a vote of confidence when the majority is under question. A floor test can be announced if there are any major differences between the parties.

The speaker conducts the floor test to ascertain the majority. The Chief Minister can be asked to move by the Governor of the State and win a vote of confidence. If the motion fails, the Chief Minister would have to resign. This is provided for in Article 356, which says that if the Chief Minister cannot show majority in the House, the Union Government can impose President’s Rule, i.e. replace the Chief Minister with a Governor appointed by the President.

Composite Floor Test– This test is called when more than one party claims to form the government. The government of the state calls for a special session to prove the majority when the majority is not clear.

Members eligible to Vote– In a floor test, voting is done by members of the state legislative assembly. The voting can be done either by Voice Vote or Division Vote.

Role of Speaker– The speaker conducts the floor test. The main duty of the speaker is to administer the oath to the newly elected members of the house and to overlook the resignation of the members of the house. The role of the speaker is crucial during a confidence vote. In case of a tie, the speaker, by convention, can cast its vote.

How/ when was this practice introduced?

Article 356 of the India Constitution provides the if governor of a state feels that there has been a breakdown of constitutional machinery in a state, he can request the President of India to take direct control of the state, which is called the ‘President’s Rule’. The Governor is appointed by the President with the advice of the council of ministers.

Technically, the President’s rule is equal to central government running the state government. But this would be against the federal structure of government. In the past, the Congress Party indulged in bringing down unfriendly state governments and imposing the President’s rule under Article 356.

The Supreme Court, to put an end to this blatant misuse of this power, decided in the SR Bommai Case that the test of Constitutional Machinery has to be decided on the floor of the Legislative Assembly of the State by voting by the members present and not as per the wish of the Governor. This led to the introduction of Floor Test in the Indian Government.

The Floor Test in the Parliament is related to proving majority by passing a vote of confidence in the state Legislative Assembly of the State. This is an event that occurs when the case is about forming or dissolution of the Government at Union or State Level. The purpose of the floor test is to enquire that whether the party who has to claim the majority will be able to provide the people, a stable and consistent government.

Procedure followed in India

During a floor test in India, the Chief Minister of the State where the floor test is being conducted has to move a vote of confidence. The Chief Minister has to win majority among those present and voting in the legislative assembly of the state. If the motion fails, the Chief Minister would have to hand over his resignation to the Governor, if the confidence motion fails to pass i.e. if the floor test fails.

There are various mode through which Voting is conducted by the members present in the State Legislative Assembly, which are –

  1. Ballot Vote – It is a type of discreet voting. Each voter uses one ballot which is not shared. Ballot is a device used to cast vote, it may be a piece of paper or a ball used in secret voting.
  2. Division Vote – The voting in division vote is done using electronic gadget, slip or a ballot.
  3. Voice Vote – In Voice Voting, the members of the legislature vote orally.

The Supreme Court can deny the request of any government for a specific type of voting.
The voting can even be done by a mere show of hands if the Apex Court directs so.

Conclusion

We can conclude that in a floor test, a Chief Minister appointed by the Governor can be asked to prove his majority in a state in case of doubt. In the Karnataka elections, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) won 104 out of 224 seats. Being the single largest party, BJP leader Yeddyurappa was invited by the Governor of Karnataka, Vajubhai Vala to sworn as the Chief Minister and form the government in the state. In the situation where the majority can be questioned or where there is coalition government, the governor may ask the Chief Minister to prove its majority in the House. In that case, the Chief Minister has to move a Vote of Confidence and win a majority among those present and voting in the floor of assembly. If the party fails to prove its majority in the House then the Chief Minister would have to resign.

Author: Lyba Fatima from Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

Editor: Anna Jose Kallivayalil from NLU, Delhi.

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