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The Case that changed the fate of President’s Rule

The indiscriminate use of President’s rule to thwart away the state governments who did not meet the ideology of Union led to the landmark verdict in the S.R. Bommai vs Union Of India, 1994, which curtailed the misuse of Article 356.

Article 356, what? 

Under Article 356, the President can dismiss a State Government or dissolve a State Assembly or keep it under suspended animation in the event of a failure of the constitutional machinery in that State.

Lets know the background of the case, shall we?

In the 1970s & 1980s, it almost became common practice for the central govt. to dismiss state govts led by opposition parties.

  • The Indira Gandhi regime and post-emergency Janata Party were noted for this practice.
  • Indira Gandhi’s government between 1966-1977 is known to have imposed President’ rule in 39 times (not states).
  • In 1989, Karnataka CM S.R. Bommai was denied an opportunity to test his majority in the Assembly by the Governor and his govt. was dismissed.

What do the Constitutional Experts have to say on Art. 356?

Article 356 has always been the focal point of a wider debate of the federal structure of government in Indian polity.

  • Dr. B R Ambedkar had envisaged that Art. 356 shall remain the dead letter in the Indian constitution.
  • The Sarkaria Commission on central-state relations has recommended that Article 356 must be used very sparingly, in extreme cases, as a measure of last resort, when all the other alternatives fail to prevent or rectify a breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state.

What was the S.R. Bommai case?

S.R. Bommai vs Union of India, delivered in March 1994, had sharply limited the constitutional power vested in the Central Government to dismiss a State government.

SC established strict guidelines for imposing President’s rule. This case laid down the conditions under which State govts may be dismissed, and mechanisms for that process.

In terms of the legality of the imposition of President’s Rule in States under Article 356, the SC in this case overruled its own precedent in the case of State of Rajasthan v Union of India 1977 case.

Let’s briefly understand the State of Rajasthan v Union of India 1977 case

  • SC held that the power of the President to impose President’s Rule is not above and beyond judicial review entirely.
  • The court might insist on substantial evidence in support of the Centre’s charges against a state if the latter accuses the Centre of acting mala fide.

The Court in the Bommai case, narrowed down the circumstances and the manner in which such powers could be exercised.

What are conditions for the valid exercise Article 356?

There was a shift in constitutional jurisprudence as the principle of federalism was part of the basic structure of the Constitution, and this principle could only be deviated from in exceptional and extraordinary circumstances, i.e. where constitutional rule was not possible in the State.

  • The majority enjoyed by the Council of Ministers(CoM) in the state shall be tested on the floor of the house and not subjectively decided by the Governor.
  • Center shall give a warning and a time-period of 1 week to the concerned state.
  • Courts cannot question the advice tendered by the CoM to the President, but court can scrutinizethe material basis of the satisfaction of President.
  • Until the proclamation is approved by the Parliament, President shall not take any irreversibleaction, i.e. he should not dissolution of assembly.
  • Courts have the power to reverse the actions of President, if the Art. 356 is used inappropriately.
  • Art. 356 shall be used sparingly, otherwise it will destroy the constitutional balance between the Center & States.
Published with inputs from Pushpendra | Image: Frontline

Any doubts?

  1. Anirudh Aggarwal

    the explained part should address the following issues as well:

    1. is 356 being misused despite bommai judgement? It yes, why?
    2. what is the way forwards to limit the misuse?
    3. how president’s rule affects federalism?

Speaker facing disqualification can’t disqualify MLAs, says SC

  1. News: A Speaker should refrain from deciding the disqualification of MLAs for defection under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution if he/she him/herself is facing the prospect of removal, the Supreme Court has held
  2. A Constitution Bench observed that the ruling was a safeguard against a Speaker using the disqualification proceedings of legislators for his/her own political ends
  3. A Speaker, under the threat of losing his position, may choose to disqualify the MLAs to alter the composition of the House in his/her favour
  4. Therefore, the above was made constitutionally impermissible under Article 179 of the Constitution

SC quashes Arunachal Governor’s order

  1. News: Supreme Court unanimously quashed Arunachal Pradesh Governor’s decision to advance the Assembly session from January 14, 2016 to December 16, 2015
  2. The Governor’s move had triggered political unrest and culminated in the declaration of President’s rule on January 26
  3. First time SC used its powers of judicial review to restore a government when its successor government is still in place
  4. Future: The Bench directed the immediate imposition of status quo ante as on December 15, 2015
  5. This means that the present government headed by Khaliko Pul would have to step down to make way for the return of Congress-led Nabam Tuki government to power
  6. Context: The Arunachal Pradesh Governor had decided in December to topple Nabam Tuki’s government

Second floor test a possibility: SC

  1. Context: SC would separately hear petition filed by disqualified MLAs
  2. SC: After hearing the petition, if it favours disqualified MLAs, there will be second floor test
  3. Argument: MLAs were disqualified after proclamation of President’s Rule but Speaker has no authority to disqualify after President’s rule

President’s Rule lifted, Rawat to be CM again

  1. Context: Former CM, Mr. Rawat, has won floor test conducted by SC
  2. The principal secretary presented the result of vote to SC

SC appoints official for floor test

  1. Context: SC has given order to appoint Principal Secretary to conduct trust vote
  2. Aim: to conduct vote in objective and neutral manner
  3. Principal Secretary: An official of Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs
  4. Criticism: No confidence of neutrality as he is from staff of speaker

Advantage Rawat as SC bars Congress rebels from voting

  1. Context: SC ordered that disqualified member can’t give their votes during floor test
  2. The members were disqualified by the speaker under the 10th schedule of constitution
  3. Allegation: Horse trading

Floor test in Uttarakhand on May 10

  1. Context: Floor test will be conducted in Uttarakhand on 10th May
  2. This is according to the Supreme court’s order to end controversy over proclamation of President’s Rule
  3. No status quo ante: When President’s rule is lifted, Mr. Rawat would not automatically be restored as CM
  4. Earlier: HC ordered to restore Former CM before Floor test
  5. If Former CM fails to prove majority, Governor can call leader of majority system

Centre ‘seriously considering’ floor test

  1. Context: Govt has taken the SC’s suggestion on Floor Test
  2. Earlier: Govt had given challenge to Uttarakhand HC’s decision on floor test
  3. Former CM: Requested SC to specify that Floor test is on a vote of Confidence Motion
  4. AG: Floor test will be opportunity to both the parties to prove majority

SC favours trust vote in Uttarakhand

  1. Context: SC suggested Govt to conduct the floor test by lifting the President’s Rule in Uttarakhand
  2. Why? To end the Constitutional crisis
  3. SC: Floor test is the ultimate test to decide the majority
  4. Floor test & President’s cannot be at a same time
  5. So, suggesting lifting President’s rule for three day

Who can question authority of the Speaker, asks SC

  1. Context: SC questioned Uttarakhand Govt on questioning the speaker’s authority
  2. Background: Money bill was passed by Uttarakhand government on March 18
  3. Govt: Insisted the non passage of Money bill
  4. SC: No one can question the Speaker’s authority as assembly records show that Money bill was passed
  5. State emergency is continued in Uttarakhand, so as to maintain status quo

Uttarakhand HC sets aside President’s Rule

  1. Context: The Uttarakhand High Court quashed the Union government’s order imposing President’s Rule on the State
  2. HC: The situation must be viewed on a larger canvas of democracy, federalism and the rule of law
  3. The soul of the matter is whether it is open to the Central govt to get rid of State govts

President’s decision open to judicial review: HC

  1. Context: Uttarakhand HC Hearing on a petition challenging the imposition of President’s Rule
  2. Govt: President took the decision to impose A 356 in his political wisdom
  3. President’s understanding of the material before him would be different from that of the court
  4. HC: People go wrong, be it President or the judges & there can’t be ‘absolutism’ in a decision
  5. Legitimacy of the inference drawn by President is open to Judicial Review

Imposition of Central rule undemocratic: SC

  1. Context: Uttarakhand High Court, hearing the case on the imposition of President’s rule in the State
  2. HC: Questioned the need for the Central government to intervene in State matters, unless in extraordinary cases
  3. Floor test: The decision on whether Govt would topple or stay could have been decided by the floor test
  4. Haste: Centre has ‘cut at the roots of democracy’ by showing haste in imposition of President’s rule

President’s rule in Uttarakhand

  1. News: The Centre brought Uttarakhand under President’s rule, as per Article 356 of the Constitution
  2. The Assembly has been placed under suspended animation on the recommendation of the Union Cabinet
  3. Reason: The Union Cabinet has cited constitutional breakdown in the wake of a rebellion in the ruling Congress
  4. There were allegations of horse trading against the ruling govt. along with controversial passing of Appropriation Bill by speaker

SC declines to intervene in Arunachal political impasse

  1. Context: Supreme court is hearing the constitutional validity of President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh
  2. News: The SC declined to intervene in the Arunachal Pradesh political controversy
  3. Centre has indicated that it was in favour of withdrawing President’s Rule in the State to make way for a new govt
  4. Reason: Centre has argued that there cannot be a constitutional vacuum just because the SC is hearing the case

Can Governor intervene in Speaker’s disqualification powers?

  1. Context: SC was questioning the Governor’s interventions in the wake of Speaker disqualifying rebel Congress MLAs
  2. Court’s Question: How can the Governor take away the constitutional powers of the Speaker to disqualify lawmakers on the grounds of defection?
  3. Court’s Observation: Governor has no role to play in issues prescribed in Tenth Schedule of Constitution

Was it discretion or mere whim, SC asks Governor

  1. Context: Governor used his constitutional discretion to advance the 6th session of the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly by over a month
  2. Court’s Question: Whether it was backed by sound constitutional principles or based on a mere whim
  3. Constitutional Principles: Under Art. 174(1), Governor can summon the house, but the question before the bench is whether this power can be used unilaterally by Governor
  4. The other question before the bench is that whether Governor is bound by aid and advice of Counicl of ministers before advancing the assembly session

Governor cannot pre-empt CM’s powers: court

  1. Context: SC hearing on the President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh
  2. Issue: The court is looking into whether there was any relevant material to justify the imposition of emergency in the state by the President
  3. Observation: The Governor cannot pre-empt the powers exclusively granted by the Constitution to the Chief Minister and his Council
  4. The Governor should use his powers in a fair and limited manner for the sake of survival of democracy

Supreme Court recalls notice to Arunachal Pradesh Governor

Concedes he has total immunity for acts done in official capacity.

  1. Just a few days after ordering Arunachal Pradesh Governor J.P. Rajkhowa to respond why he recommended President’s rule in the sensitive border State, the SC recalled the order.
  2. The turn of events was triggered by Attorney-General, for the Centre, drawing the Bench’s attention to Article 361 (1) of the Constitution.
  3. This gives the President and the Governor protection from legal action.
  4. Under the Article, both the President and the Governor of a State “shall not be answerable to any court” for acts done in performance of their powers and duties.

Central rule in Arunachal is in national interest: Govt.

In a 316-page counter-affidavit filed in Supreme Court, Ministry of Home Affairs cites political stability is imperative in the border state.

  1. Recurrent insurgency, Chinese claims, a communal Chief Minister and a document signed by a “majority” 34 MLAs urging for President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh are factors listed by the Centre.
  2. To justify the proclamation of emergency in the sensitive border State on Republic Day.
  3. The Centre said President’s rule was imposed on Arunachal Pradesh in the interest of the country.
  4. The country cannot afford a whiff of instability in the State.
  5. Which has seen recurrent insurgency as well as attempts by China to claim large parts of its territory.

Raj Bhavan dharma: Constitutional duty of governors

Governors are expected to rise above party positions and proclivities, not to magnify them.

  1. The fundamental duty of a governor is to prevent genuine constitutional crises.
  2. They have to perform the dual role of being representative of Union at state and being constitutional head of state with utmost sincerity.
  3. The ruling of S.R. Bommai vs Union of India laid down specific prerequisites for the imposition of Article 356.
  4. The first being a test of the ruling party’s majority on the floor of the House.
  5. To realize the goal of cooperative rather than obstructive federalism, governors have to act in accordance with the norms of constitutional morality.

SC issues notice to Centre on Arunachal issue

  1. The SC sought response from the Centre and AP Governor J.P. Rajkhowa to furnish relevant material backing their claim.
  2. The claim should establish that there has been a failure of constitutional machinery in the sensitive border State.
  3. Congress petition is demanding records culminating in the Union Cabinet’s recommendation for a proclamation of President’s Rule.
  4. Fali Nariman argued that it is only when constitutional governance becomes an ‘impossibility‘ that proclamation under Article 356 is resorted to.

Dilli Pradesh : President’s rule in Arunachal

There are clearly laid out procedures to settle disputes over House majority and  constitutional heads ought to stay away from political manipulations.

  1. While devolution of an increased share of Central taxes and removal of overbearing institutions like the Planning Commission were consistent with the cooperative federalism.
  2. President’s rule goes against the grain of cooperative federalism.
  3. The pattern involves dissidence within the ruling party, the opposition joining hands with the rebels, confusion over the likelihood of a floor test, and the Governor intervening in a partisan manner.
  4. Undoubtedly, there is a constitutional impasse because six months have elapsed since the last time the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly met.
  5. That itself is a valid ground for Central rule.
  6. But events were manipulated in such a way that the divided legislature never got an opportunity to meet and test the government’s majority.
  7. Gauhati High Court ruled that the Governor was justified in advancing the session by acting on his own discretion if he had reason to believe that the Chief Minister and the Speaker were stalling a particular motion.
  8. Same constitutional question is now before the supreme court constitutional bench.

Let’s know about President’s rule?

  1. The article 356 of the constitution which focuses on the failure of the Constitutional machinery of the State is often termed as the President’s rule.
  2. There are various reasons for which President’s rule can be imposed on a State.
  3. The failure of the State government to function as per the constitution is the first step towards this.
  4. Other factors include the loss of majority, break down of law and order, indecisive outcome of elections, no alternate claimant to form the government, insurgency.
  5. It can be imposed initially for a period of six months.

Pranab gives assent to Central rule in Arunachal Pradesh

President signed on the dotted line after being satisfied that the law and order situation in the border State was sensitive to this uncertainty in government.

  1. The Governor [Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa] has been sending multiple reports that even the Raj Bhavan was not safe and there was no law and order in the State.
  2. The political turmoil in the state is set to deepen inside Parliament with the Congress determined to stall the ratification of President’s Rule in the State.
  3. A proclamation of President’s Rule needs to be ratified in both Houses of Parliament within 2 months of notification or whenever the next session of Parliament is held.
  4. This decision of the NDA-led Central government is an attempt to sabotage the Constitutional mandate, which is a threat to democracy.

:( We are working on most probable questions. Do check back this section.

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