Supreme Court hearing on Maharashtra begins; SG produces key documents
On Monday, the Supreme Court began hearing on the petition filed by the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress against the oath-taking of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar. The court had on Sunday asked the Centre to produce letters of support, among other documents to stake claim to the government in Maharashtra. Here are the updates.
Advocate Mukul Rohatgi is appearing for Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis. Former Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh is representing NCP leader and Maharashtra Deputy CM Ajit Pawar. Meanwhile, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Kapil Sibal are representing NCP-Congress and Sena respectively, while Solicitor General Tushar Mehta represents Centre. The SC bench is headed by Justice NV Ramana and comprises Justices Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna.
SG Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Governor's Secretary since the Governor can't be a party in person, informed the court that he has all the documents. He submitted the letter given by Ajit Pawar to the Governor on November 22, along with a list of 54 MLAs pledging their support to the BJP in the state. All NCP MLAs elected Ajit Pawar as chief, Mehta argued.
"The Governor had no reason to disbelieve him," Mehta asserted. He added, "How can there be horse-trading when this could be a case where the entire stable has been stolen away?" Mehta also submitted the letter of the Governor inviting Fadnavis to form the government and sought time to file a detailed reply on the Governor's behalf.
Further, arguing for CM Fadnavis, Rohatgi defended the Governor's actions, termed "arbitrary and malafide" by the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress in their petition. Rohatgi submitted that over the weekend, some NCP MLAs had supported Ajit Pawar, however, later returned to Sharad Pawar. "Nobody is saying that the signatures are forged. The Governor gave a chance to all parties. He exercised his discretion fairly," Rohatgi argued.
When asked by Justice Khanna if Fadnavis enjoys a majority, Rohatgi said, "Is there substance in the main matter for the Court to pass interim orders? My submission is that there's no substance." He added, "The procedure of the Assembly is Protem Speaker will be appointed, he'll administer oath to MLAs, then they'll elect a speaker and then the floor test will be conducted."
Separately, Sibal asked why the Governor waited until the announcement of the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance's common minimum program to revoke President's Rule at 5:47am on Saturday and install a government. "This was done to preempt forming of the government of the three-party alliance," he argued. He rebutted Ajit Pawar's claim of support of 54 NCP MLAs since he was removed as party CLP leader.
Sibal also demanded an immediate floor test, saying, "If they have the majority then why should they shy away from the floor test." He added, "Let the oldest member be made Protem Speaker. Let Floor test be video recorded."
Arguing for the NCP-Congress combine, Singhvi said, "There was a list of signatures (of 54 NCP MLAs), but did it say that the MLAs were agreeing to support the BJP. There can be signatures without a covering letter." Calling for an immediate floor test, he also demanded that the senior-most member of the House should be appointed as a Protem Speaker.
Singhvi added, "It is for the purpose to preserve the purity of democracy that every order passed by the Supreme Court in the past has held that floor test to be held within 24 hours." Meanwhile, Ajit Pawar's counsel Maninder Singh argued that there's no evidence to show he was not the party leader on November 22, when he submitted the letter of support.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the first day of Parliament proceedings since Fadnavis-Pawar's swearing-in, Congress protested against the move in the Lok Sabha, storming the Well and clashing with Marshals. The House was adjourned till 2pm. Demonstrations in the Rajya Sabha also led to the House being adjourned till 2pm. Lastly, the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP submitted a letter at Raj Bhavan, claiming majority with 162 MLAs.