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
- 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.