As the Maharashtra political crisis continues, with the Shiv Sena on the verge of splitting and the Chief Minister possibly losing majority, the Governor’s constitutional power to call for a floor test takes centre stage.
Constitutional provisions –
- There are two provisions in the Indian Constitution that deal with a Governor’s power to summon, prorogue and dissolve a Legislative Assembly.
- Under Article 174, a Governor shall summon the House at a time and place, as s/he thinks fit. Article 174 (2) (a) says a Governor may from time to time prorogue the House and Article 174 (2) (b) allows her or him to dissolve the Legislative Assembly.
- Article 163 says the Governor shall exercise her or his functions with the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. But it also adds that s/he would not need their advice if the Constitution requires her or him to carry out any function at her or his discretion.
- Articles 174 and 163 are usually read together to outline the Governor’s powers in summoning, proroguing or dissolving the House.
Observations of Supreme Court on Governor’s discretionary powers –
- The SC in the Nabam Rebia case (2016), had expressly stated that a Governor can summon, prorogue and dissolve the House, only on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.
- To interpret Article 174, the Constitution Bench in the Nabam Rebia case had examined the Constituent Assembly debate on the said provision.
- Then drafted as Article 153, the provision had three clauses.
- The third clause allowed the Governor to exercise her or his discretion to summon, prorogue and dissolve the assembly.
- This clause was omitted, as it was inconsistent with the scheme of a “Constitutional” Governor and no such discretionary power was being extended to the President (with regard to summoning and dissolution of the Parliament).
- But the court also clarified that if the Governor had reasons to believe that the Chief Minister and her or his Council of Ministers have lost the confidence of the House, a floor test could be ordered.