• July 19, 2019, 10:59 am


What is happening in Karnataka

The Supreme Court ordered a floor test to be held in the Karnataka assembly when chief minister B S Yeddyurappa will have to prove his majority on the floor of the House. The top court reduced the 15-day window that was earlier given by Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala to Yeddyurappa to prove he has the required numbers.


What is a floor test?

A floor test is a motion through which the government of the day seeks to know whether it still enjoys the confidence of the legislature. In this procedure, a CM appointed by the Governor can be asked to prove majority on the floor of the Legislative Assembly of the state.

What happens in a floor test

The chief minister has to move a vote of confidence and win a majority among those present and voting. If the confidence motion fails to pass, the chief minister has to resign. The idea behind a floor test is to ensure transparency in the constitutional process.

What is a composite floor test?

If there is more than one person staking claim to form the government and the majority is not clear, the governor may call for a special session to see who has the majority. Some legislators may be absent or choose not to vote. In such a case, the majority is counted based on those present and voting.

How is the voting done?

These are the modes by which voting can be conducted:

1. Voice vote: In a voice vote, the legislators respond orally.

2. Division vote: In case of a division vote, voting is done using electronic gadgets, slips or in a ballot box.

3. Ballot vote: Ballot box is usually a secret vote - just like how people vote during state or parliamentary elections. The Supreme Court in its order rejected the Yeddyurappa's government's request for a secret ballot.


What happens if there is a tie

Following the vote, the person who has the majority will be allowed to form the government. In case there is a tie, the speaker can cast his vote.


Role of pro-tem speaker

Ahead of the crucial Karnataka floor test, state governor Vajubhai Vala  appointed BJP MLA K G Bopaiah (left) as pro-tem speaker. The pro-tem speaker's role is crucial in conducting a floor test. Conventionally, the longest-serving House member is nominated as pro tem speaker, whose role is limited to administering the oath to new MLAs and conducting the election of the full-time speaker.


In the arguments in the Supreme Court in the case related to the political crisis in Karnataka, Senior Advocate representing the Speaker of the Assembly, cited the landmark judgment in Kihoto Hollohan vs Zachillhu And Others (1992), in which the court upheld the sweeping discretion available to the Speaker in deciding cases of disqualification of MLAs.

The Bench said that the discretion Speaker to decide on the resignations of the 15 MLAs “should not be fettered by any direction or observation” of the court; however, the rebel MLAs “ought not to be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the… House… and an option should be given to them that they can take part in the said proceedings or opt to remain out of the same”.


What was the Kihoto Hollohan case?

The law covering the disqualification of legislators and the powers of the Speaker in deciding such matters became part of the statute book in 1985 when the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution was adopted. A constitutional challenge to the Tenth Schedule was settled by the apex court in Kihoto Hollohan. The principal question before the Supreme Court in the case was whether the powerful role given to the Speaker violated the doctrine of Basic Structure — the judicial principle that certain basic features of the Constitution cannot be altered by amendments by Parliament, laid down in the landmark judgment in Kesavananda Bharati vs State Of Kerala (1973).


What does the Tenth Schedule say?

The Tenth Schedule, which was inserted in the Constitution by the Constitution (Fifty-Second Amendment) Act, 1985, popularly known as the “anti-defection law”, provides for the disqualification of Members of Parliament and state legislatures who defect.

Paragraph 2 of the Schedule says that “a member of a House belonging to any political party shall be disqualified from being a member of the House… if he has voluntarily given up his membership of such political party; or if he votes or abstains from voting in such House contrary to any direction issued by the political party… without obtaining… prior permission…”

And what is the extent of the Speaker’s powers?

Paragraph 6(1) of the Tenth Schedule describes the Speaker’s sweeping discretionary powers: “If any question arises as to whether a member of a House has become subject to disqualification under this Schedule, the question shall be referred for the decision of the Chairman or, as the case may be, the Speaker of such House and his decision shall be final.”

What did the Supreme Court rule in Hollohan?

The petitioners in Hollohan argued whether it was fair that the Speaker should have such broad powers, given that there is always a reasonable likelihood of bias.


The majority judgment answered this question in the affirmative: “The Speakers/Chairmen hold a pivotal position in the scheme of Parliamentary democracy and are guardians of the rights and privileges of the House. They are expected to and do take far-reaching decisions in the Parliamentary democracy. Vestiture of power to adjudicate questions under the Tenth Schedule in them should not be considered exceptionable.”

They added that the Schedule’s provisions were “salutory and intended to strengthen the fabric of Indian Parliamentary democracy by curbing unprincipled and unethical political defections.”


What was the minority view on the Bench?

Dissenting a drastically different view: “The tenure of the Speaker, who is the authority in the Tenth Schedule to decide this dispute, is dependent on the continuous support of the majority in the House and, therefore, he does not satisfy the requirement of such independent adjudicatory authority.”

They added: “An independent adjudicatory machinery for resolving disputes relating to the competence of Members of the House is envisaged as an attribute of the democratic system which is a basic feature of our Constitution… [the Speaker’s] choice as the sole arbiter in the matter violates an essential attribute of the basic feature.”


What now?

The vote to decide the fate of the JD(S)-Congress government was not held on Thursday amid a demand by Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah that the motion be deferred until the Speaker was able to decide on the fate of his whip. The Supreme Court had said the previous day that the 15 rebel MLAs “ought not to be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the… House”.

What is a whip?

A whip in parliamentary parlance is a written order that party members be present for an important vote, or that they vote only in a particular way. The term is derived from the old British practice of “whipping in” lawmakers to follow the party line. In India all parties can issue a whip to their members. Parties appoint a senior member from among their House contingents to issue whips — this member is called a Chief Whip, and he/she is assisted by additional Whips.


The importance of a whip can be inferred from the number of times an order is underlined. A one-line whip, underlined once, is usually issued to inform party members of a vote, and allows them to abstain in case they decide not to follow the party line. A two-line whip directs them to be present during the vote. A three-line whip is the strongest, employed on important occasions such as the second reading of a Bill or a no-confidence motion, and places an obligation on members to toe the party line.


The penalty for defying a whip varies from country to country. In the UK, MPs can lose membership of the party, but can keep their House seats as Independents; in India, rebelling against a three-line whip can put a lawmaker’s membership of the House at risk. The anti-defection law allows the Speaker/Chairperson to disqualify such a member; the only exception is when more than a third of legislators vote against a directive, effectively splitting the party.