S.R. Bommai v. Union of India
Author: Vidisha Raman
Court: Supreme Court
Equivalent citations: 1994 AIR 1918, 1994 SCC (3) 1
Bench: Pandian, S.R. (J), Ahmadi, A.M. (J) (J), Verma, J.S. (J) Sawant, P.B., Ramaswamy, K. & Agrawal, S.C. (J), Yogeshwar Dayal Reddy, B.P. (J)
Facts of the case
SR Bommai was the leader of Janata Dal, which was the largest governing party in the Karnataka State legislature. The party was functioning well under the expansion of 13 members when K.R Molakey with other legislators felt paralyzed in the party further resulting them in sending a letter to the governor regarding withdrawing their support from the party. Governor, Pekentanti Venkatasubbaiah presented the letter to the President stating the disagreement between the parties and large-scale defection of legislators. Governor then, stating the indecorum of the government not to be governed by a minister including the council of ministers, suggested President’s rule under Article 356.
After 2 days, seven of nineteen legislators wrote a letter to the governor confirming their support to the leader chief. However Governor, despite receiving those letters, refused to allow Bommai to prove his party’s majority in the Assembly and disallowing floor test to the government.The President proclaimed the merits mentioned by the Governor in April 1989 and got approved by Parliament under Article 356 (3).
Bommai first went to High Court to challenge the validity of the proclamation, which dismissed his writ petition as a result of which he sought remedy from the Supreme Court.
Issues of the Case:
There were 3 main issues raised in this case:-
1. Is the Proclamation issued by the President under Article 356, amenable to judicial review?
2. If yes, what is the scope of judicial review in this respect?
3. The meaning behind the expression “A situation has arisen in which the Government of the State cannot be carried on per the provisions of this Constitution” is used in Art. 356(1)?
The court held that to issue Proclamation by President 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. It also held that the President has no power to dissolve the Legislative Assembly and the Governor can’t advise President to do so, till the Proclamation is approved by both the Houses of Parliament and until enough measures are taken by the Governor for the formation of an alternative Government. He can only suspend the Legislative Assembly under sub-clause (c) of clause (1) of Article 356.
The court while establishing its power to overrule the Proclamation issued by the Presidentwhether it is approved by Parliament or not, said that it also hasthe power to restore the status quo of the government.
The Court supported the finding of the Sarkaria Commission to use Article 356 sparingly, as a last measure, when all available alternatives had failed to prevent or rectify constitutional machinery in a State.
The rationale behind the distribution of power between the Union and the States would be the thought ofthe danger of degeneration of the federation into smaller factions that would not be able to defend themselves against external aggression.
B.R Ambedkar while drafting the constitution provided for all conceivable exigencies for a good constitution. For article 356 he proposed that such Article not be called into operation and would remain as a dead letter. He recommended using it in rare of the rarest events as a safety valve to counter the disruption of political machinery. But while dealing with the States, the Centre has not always kept in mind the concept of co-operative federalism or the spirit and object with which the Article was enacted and has indeed grossly abused the power under Article 356 on many occasions.
The Bommai verdict spelled out the arbitration on the imposition of Article 356 by the President on a state government. At the time of exercising Art.356, Centre is presumed to be very careful otherwise an injury maybe caused to the federal fabric of the Constitution but it seems like now times it is used to settle political scores.
Misuse of Article 356:
In 2016,Arunachal Pradesh faced a constitutional crisis when the Nabam Tuki government was locked down by the Governor under Article 356. The crisis started when 33 members of the assembly stated their displeasure regarding the Speaker of the government. Governor then summoned the assembly independently intending to topple the government and listed the removal of the speaker on the legislative agenda. When the decision came under the scanner of the Supreme Court it restored the Nabam Tuki Government and demanded a floor test.
The same year political crisis in Uttarakhand started whenCongress along with BJP legislators met with Governor K.K Paul and sought the dismissal of the government. And before even the floor testing of CM Rawat government, the President imposed President’s Rule. The HC Uttarakhand however reinstated the government stating President’s Rule to be ‘last resort’ and ordered for a test floor.
The State of Jammu and Kashmir was under the representation of the Governor when the Central Governmentto reinstate President’s Rule passed the Jammu and KashmirReorganization Act, 2019 bifurcating the state into 2 Union Territories. by disregarding the wishes of the State Legislature completely.
The most heated topic of 2019 came in front when the President’s Rule was imposed in the State of Maharashtra. From the proclamation being revoked early in the morning to the PM’s post-facto approval to President’s Rule and eagerness to sit on the CM’s throne, showed the misuse of the essence of the Article.
Under the light of the preceding discussion on Article 356 from various dimensions, the author inclines the rationale given by the Constitutional Framers towards the desirability of having such a provision. The intervention of the Supreme Court in the spate of misused applications of this Article seems to have turned the tide from blatant misuse to judicious use. The reformative role played by the judiciary is laudable and it’s now time for the executive to fasten its loose ends and thereby not give any room for criticism.
Edited by Prawin Subash K, Senior editor, Lawgic Stratum.