Amidst the frenzy of political churnings in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court decided to sit beyond normal working hours, after 5 pm, on Wednesday to hear a petition filed by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's camp challenging a floor test scheduled on June 30 to glean whether the Maha Vikas Aghadi government still enjoys a majority in the House.

"Considering the urgency that has been created, we will have to hear the case today itself," Justice Surya Kant, heading a Vacation Bench also comprising Justice JB Pardiwala, addressed the Sena dissidents' faction.

The turn of events began with senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, for Thackeray loyalist Sunil Prabhu, making an oral mentioning before the Bench about the conduct of the "completely illegal floor test".

"Floor test cannot be held when the disqualification proceedings against several MLAs are pending. The floor test cannot include the votes of many MLAs whose names are under a stigma... Now people will fly down and vote," Singhvi submitted.

The senior lawyer submitted that the notice for the floor test "has just come now".

"Hardly a day's time has been given... The floor test will be held tomorrow (Thursday) early at 11 am. It is imperative that the court hear the case today itself... We will serve the pleadings to the other parties. Mr. Kaul is already here... Please hear the petition at 5 pm or 6 pm today," Singhvi urged the court.

He said the apex court had given more time to the 39 rebel MLAs to file their replies to the disqualification notice. "However, this time given by the court is now being used to claim majority... This is an attempt to pre-emptively determine the outcome of the disqualification proceedings... Look at the suddenness of the floor test notice," Singhvi submitted.

‘Unfair hearing’

Senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, for the dissidents, said the plea to have a hearing on Wednesday, the eve of a floor test, is "most unfair". "Political accountability has to be tested on the floor of the House... To urge a judicial hearing on the previous day is not fair," Kaul countered.

But the court asked Singhvi to share the petition and other records with Kaul's team in the next few hours before the evening's hearing. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Maharashtra Governor, also sought for a copy of the petition. "We will take a short break and read the pleadings so that we are prepared in the evening," Justice Kaul said.

The rebellions’ response

On June 27, in the previous hearing on the Maharashtra political crisis, the Bench had given the Sena dissidents led by Eknath Shinde time till July 12 to file their responses to the disqualification notice issued by Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal on June 25.

Shinde had questioned Zirwal's competence to issue the notice as he himself was facing a motion initiated by the Sena dissidents for his removal as Deputy Speaker.

Senior advocate Devadatt Kamat, also for the Thackeray camp, had, on June 27, voiced apprehensions about a likely floor test. Kamat had, at that point of time, pleaded with the Bench to ensure that no floor test took place till the issue was finally decided in court.

“If there is any change in status quo or if anything unlawful were to happen, your lordships should give us the liberty to approach you,” Kamat had urged. But the court had remained non-committal on June 27, simply assuring Kamat that "our doors are always open to any citizen of the country".

(The writer is a reporter with The Hindu)