Citation: (1994) 3 SCC 1
Bench: S. Ratnavel Pandian, A.M. Ahmadi, P.B. Sawant, K. Ramaswamy, S.C. Agrawal, Yogeshwar Dayal, B.P. Jeevan Reddy, Kuldip Singh.
Article 356 of the Indian Constitution is one of the essential provisions of law pertaining to the vast majority of the perplexing issues identifying with the realm of Center-State relations. According to the said Article, The Central government, through Presidential proclamation, can take control of any State government if a situation has arisen in which the State government machinery cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and therefore, matters related to this Article are always involved in controversy. The Supreme Court gave a historic judgement, in the case of S.R. Bommai that serves as a guide for all disputes arising out of the use (and the alleged ‘misuse’) of Article 356 and the tussle between the Centre and the states.
S.R. Bommai was the Chief Minister in Karnataka between August 13, 1988, and April 21, 1989, representing the Janta Dal. His government was dismissed on April 21, 1989, under Article 356 of the Constitution and President’s Rule was imposed on grounds that the incumbent government does not have majority due to the defection of a large number of MLAs. Then-Governor, despite receiving 19 letters from Bommai refused to give him an opportunity to prove his party’s majority in the Assembly. Bommai went to court against the Governor’s decision to dismiss his government and impose President’s Rule under the said Article. He approached the High Court first, which dismissed his writ petition as a result of which, he sought remedy from the Supreme Court.
On the other hand, Indira Gandhi had constituted a commission in 1983 headed by Justice Ranjeet Singh Sarkaria on Centre-State relations which submitted its report in 1988.1 The Sarkaria commission suggested that Article 356 must be used only in extreme cases, as a measure of last resort where all other alternatives have been exhausted or fail to prevent or rectify a breakdown of constitutional machinery in the States, which was also what the intention of the Constitution framers all along. The report of the commission was obviously not binding on the legislature but the Supreme Court took the recommendation into consideration it in the S.R. Bommai case.
Apart from the central issue of the political misuse of Article 356 and federalism, the judgement also discussed the idea of Secularism.
There were 3 main issues raised in this case, which are as follows-
- Is the Proclamation issued by the President under Article 356, amenable to judicial review?
- If yes, what is the scope of judicial review in this respect?
- What is the meaning of the expression “A situation has arisen in which the Government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution” used in Art. 356(1)?
The court held that “the exercise of power by the President under Article 356(1) to issue Proclamation is subject to the judicial review at least to the extent of examining whether the conditions precedent to the issuance of the Proclamation have been satisfied or not. This examination will necessarily involve the scrutiny as to whether there existed material for the satisfaction of the President that a situation had arisen in which the Government of the State could not be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.”2
It also held that “the President has no power to dissolve the Legislative Assembly of the State by using his power under Art. 356(1) till the Proclamation is approved by both the Houses of Parliament under clause (3) of the said article. He may have power only to suspend the Legislative Assembly under sub-clause (c) of clause (1) of the said article.”3 Hence, it can be said that clause (3) keeps the powers of the President in check.
Secondly, the court has the power to overrule the Proclamation issued by the President whether it is approved by Parliament or not. This will mean that the courts also have the power to restore the status quo and, therefore, “to restore the Council of Ministers and the Legislative Assembly as they stood on the date of the issuance of the Proclamation.”4 In other words, the proclamation comes under the purview of Judicial Review. When called upon, the Union of India has to produce the material on the basis of which action was taken. The courts also stated that they do not agree with the opinion given in State of Rajasthan5 judgment, hence overruling it by this judgement.
The Court supported the finding of the Sarkaria Commission by endorsing the guidelines given in its report, including the issuance of “warning to the errant State that it is not carrying on the government of the State in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution”6 (except in cases of urgency), along with other procedural recommendations.
If the Ministry of State resigns or dismissed or loses majority then Governor can’t advise President to impose President’s Rule until enough measures are taken by Governor for formation an alternative Government. The court will have the liberty to provide a suitable relief according to the facts of the case and the political circumstances of the time and declare as void action taken by the president till date.
The court also reiterated that, “Secularism is one of the basic features of the Constitution. Any State Government which pursues unsecular policies or unsecular course of action acts contrary to the Constitutional mandate and renders itself amenable to action under Article 356.”7
The Court set aside the judgment of the Karnataka High Court and restored the dismissed state government of Karnataka and Meghalaya, declaring that the proclamations issued in both the states are unconstitutional. The proclamations issued for the states of Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan were not declared unconstitutional. The Court also issued appropriate directives in relation to the proclamation issued for the State of Nagaland.
The Court’s decision has proved to be the most appropriate to curb the problem of misuse of power by the Executive. The Court rightly rejected opposing contentions that the state governments comes under the Central government by interpreting the intentions of the Constitution framers with the help of Constituent Assembly debates.8 The Court described Federalism and Secularism as a part of the Basic Structure. It also overruled the judgement given in State of Rajasthan, which stated that the President’s decision is not fit to be a subject matter of Judicial review and it should be decided by the Central Government alone.9 The courts recognised the tendency of political parties to disturb the pluralistic form of democracy and hence held that the judiciary will act as the watchdog so that such powers are not used in a mala fide manner. The Court even though gave guidelines for imposing President’s Rule in states, still gave enough space for the Union Cabinet and the President’s discretion.
Recent cases of alleged misuse
In 2016, the incumbent Arunachal Pradesh government was locked down by the Governor, under Article 356, when the 21 MLAs of the majority party defected to another party and the Governor summoned the Assembly earlier than scheduled with the intention to topple the State government. Supreme Court restored the Nabam Tuki Government in Arunachal Pradesh and criticised the Governor for “humiliating the elected Government of the day.” It also demanded a floor test to ascertain Government’s majority.10
In the same year, the Central Government imposed President’s Rule in the state of Uttarakhand just a day before the floor test in the State assembly was scheduled. The Centre justified its actions on the basis of a sting operation showing the Chief Minister indulging in bribery with some of the MLAs. The Supreme Court ordered a floor test, which ultimately led the dismissed government being reinstated.11
The State of Jammu and Kashmir was under President’s Rule since June 2018 and on 30th October, 2019 it was lifted so that the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 could be passed. The state was divided into 2 Union Territories of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh. The passing of the Act was enabled by amending Article 367. After this amendment, Constituent Assembly was made equal to the state legislature. The state was under President’s rule at this time, making the Governor the representative of the State Legislature. So, the Central Government with due consent of the Governor, passed the said Act bifurcating the state into 2 Union Territories. Many legal analysts and lawyers hailed this as misuse of Article 356 and a loophole in the law. They claimed that this disregarded the wishes of the State Legislature completely, while handing over all the powers related to Article 370 to the Central government.12
The State of Maharashtra was under President’s Rule from 12th November, 2019 to 23rd November, 2019. The proclamation was revoked early in the morning without any meeting or recommendation by the Union Cabinet, by invoking Rule 12 of the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules. The Rule says that the Prime Minister may, in any case or classes of cases, permit or condone a departure from these rules, to the extent he deems necessary.” The prime minister gave this approval, which acts as post-facto approval of the Union Cabinet. It has been alleged that the invocation as well as revocation of President’s Rule was done to benefit the Ruling Party at the Centre.13
The judgement given in S.R. Bommai strengthens the federal structure in India by giving the states the due autonomy and barring the interference of Central government in the functioning of government machinery. The judgement specifies the extent of Judicial review, thereby keeping the scale of checks and balances in place. The judgement aimed to curb the political misuse of Article 356, but recent events demonstrate how these provisions are used for political gains by the parties in power. These events have been repeatedly observed even after the pronouncement of this landmark judgement but the judiciary has actively preserved the federal system. An amendment to the Article is required to reduce the frequency of imposition of President’s Rule in states.
1. Report of the Sarkaria Commission, available at http://interstatecouncil.nic.in/report-of-the-sarkaria-commission/, last accessed on November 30th, 2019
2. (1994) 3 SCC 1
5. State of Rajasthan v. Union of India, (1977) 3 SCC 592
6. Supra, 2
8. Dr. Dharmendra Kumar Singh, An Analysis of Pre and Post S.R. Bommai Scenario with Reference to President’s Rule in States, 6(6), International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention, 5, 12 (2007)
9. Supra, 4
10. Nabam Rebia v. Deputy Speaker and ors., 2016 SCC OnLine SC 694
11. Union of India v. Harish Singh Rawat and another,
12. Furquan Ameen, Article 370: What are the legal questions, The Telegraph, August 6th, 2019 available at https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/article-370-what-are-the-legal-questions/cid/1695917, (last accessed on November 30th, 2019)13. President’s Rule revoked in Maharashtra at 5.47 am, The Economic Times, November 23rd, 2019, available at https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/presidents-rule-revoked-in-maharashtra-at-5-47-am/articleshow/72194738.cms, (last accessed on November 30th, 2019)
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