Bihar Assembly Dissolution Case

Bihar Assembly Dissolution Case
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on telegram

◆Case Details◆

  • Petitioner: Rameshwar Prasad and Others
  • Respondent: Union of India and Another
  • Court: Supreme Court of India
  • Case No. – Writ Petition (Civil) 257 of 2005
  • Judges: Y.K. Sabharwal, CJI K.G. Balakrishnan, J.
    • B.N. Agrawal, J.
    • Ashok Bhan, J.
    • Arijit Pasayat, J.
  • Date of Judgement: 24.01.2006

❖ Introduction

In Rameshwar Prasad & Ors V. Union of India & Anr, also known as the Bihar Assembly Dissolution Case, the proclamation dated 23rd May 2005 issued under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution ordering the dissolution of Bihar Legislative Assembly, was challenged before the Supreme Court of India. The petitioners also prayed for the restoration of the Legislative Assembly of Bihar.

This is a first of its kind case where the Legislative Assembly of Bihar was dissolved even before the first meeting of the Assembly after its constitution took place; on the grounds of – 1) Attempt of cobbling majority in the election by illegal means and claiming to form the government, and 2) Continuation of such attempts would amount to tampering with constitutional provisions.

So the main questions of the case were –

  1. Whether the dissolution could be ordered under Article 174(2)(b) of the Constitution of India, even before its first meetings taking place,
  2. The legitimacy of the dissolution under Article 356,
  3. The scope of Governor’s immunity under Article 361.

This case makes us think about the whimsical decision of the Union Cabinet to take such a step resulting in the dissolution of the State Legislative Assembly of Bihar on immoral grounds presented by the Governor.

❖ Background

The elections took place in the state of Bihar in the year 2005, notified by the Election Commission on 17th December 2004. The results of the said election were declared on 4th March 2005. Bihar Legislative Assembly consists of 243 seats and to form government support of 122 elected members is required.

The seats won by the political parties in the results of the election was as under –

National Democratic Alliance (NDA)

92

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)

75

Lok Janshakti Party (LJD)

29

Congress (I)

10

Comminist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)

07

Samajwadi Party

04

National Congress Party (NCP)

03

Bahujan Samaj Party

02

Independents

17

Others

09

The NDA, a political coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) and the Janata Dal(United), was the largest pre-poll combination having the support of 92 MLAs. But no party individually or with a coalition were able to fulfil the minimum requirement of 122 in a House of 243.

The Governor of the state sent a report to the President on 6th March 2005, stating that he was not being able to form a popular Government in Bihar due to the situation created by the election results, and asked the President to keep the newly constituted Assembly in suspended animation. This resulted in the imposition of President’s Rule over the state of Bihar through a notification issued on 7th March 2005 and the Assembly was put under suspended animation.

Another report was sent to the President on 21st May 2005 by the Governor stating that a trend was going on to win over elected representatives to stake claim to form the government, by various kinds of allurements. The Union of India received the report on 22nd May 2005 and decided to accept it. The President accorded his approval for the same and the Bihar Legislative Assembly was dissolved even before its first meeting, through a formal notification on 23rd May 2005.

The petitioners challenged the notification issued under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution ordering the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly, stating that the satisfaction of the President to make such a decision was not based on cogent material, rather it was based on irrelevant and unreasonable grounds.

❖ Judgement of the case

The decision of the Supreme Court was in favour of the petitioners, delivered with 3:2 majority order that the Proclamation dated 23rd May 2005 dissolving the Legislative Assembly of Bihar is unconstitutional. But the restoration of the Legislative Assembly as it stood before the Proclamation dated 7th March 2005, was declined because the elections of the Bihar Assembly had been notified before this judgement of the Court.

❏ Constitutionality of the Dissolution under Article 356

Article 356 of the Constitution of India states that the President of India may proclaim President’s Rule on a state on receipt of the report from the Governor or otherwise if satisfied that the Government of the state cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the

Constitution.

In this case, the proclamation was held unconstitutional because the dissolution was based upon the irrelevant grounds presented by the Governor. Article 356 allows the President to use such power only if satisfied by reasonable and relevant facts. According to the petitioners, the Governor’s reports were based on immoral grounds and the object of the report was to prevent one particular political party from forming the government.

However, it was said that there was no proof to show the Governor’s intention in preventing the staking of the claim by one particular party to form the Government. Justice A. Pasayat, supporting the Governor’s report said that if the Governor felt what was being done by the political parties was morally wrong for the Government to go on further in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, it couldn’t have been politically right.

In this regard, the Supreme Court held that the Governor cannot assume by himself on basis of the grounds mentioned by himself, that there would be a violation of the Tenth Schedule and use it as a reason to recommend dissolution of Assembly. Thus, the dissolution of Bihar

Assembly was unconstitutional.

❏ The legitimacy of the ground under Article 174(2)(b)

Article 174(2)(b) of the Constitution deals with the power of the Governor to dissolve the Legislative assembly.

Mr Narsimha and Mr Viplav Sharma, on behalf of the petitioners, argued before the court that a Legislative Assembly can be dissolved under Article 174(2)(b) only after the first meeting is held as stated in Article 172 of the Constitution. They further argued that the dissolution cannot be made even before members taking an oath and the Assembly coming into existence. The argument solely emphasized the phrase ‘ what does not exist, cannot be dissolved’.

But the Court, expressing dissent with the argument, held that the constitution of Legislative Assembly can only happen under Section 73 of the Representation of Peoples Act,1951 and the requirement of Article 188 of the Constitution suggests that the Assembly comes into existence even before its first sitting commences.

❏ Governor’s immunity under Article 361

Article 361 of the Constitution gives immunity to the Governor comprising that the Governor shall not be answerable to any court for the exercise and performances of the powers and duties of his office or any act done or purporting to be done by him in exercise and performance of those powers and duties.

According to this provision, the Governor was not answerable to anyone for his actions. However, it was held that Article 361 does not take away the power of the court to examine the validity of the Governor’s actions.

❏ The role of the President and Supreme Court

The majority judgement stated in their reasoning that the President hurried himself to sign the order of dissolution. He could have taken more time to consider the impugned order dissolving the Legislative Assembly of Bihar.

The duty of the Supreme Court is to adjudicate disputes and provide relief to victims of injustice. However, in this case, the Supreme Court, although held that the dissolution was unconstitutional, did not stop the second election based on the dissolution to go on. This particular step rendered the petition infructuous in one way.

❖ Conclusion

It was held that the President or the Governor does not have such power to dissolve a State Assembly based on mere whims, suspicion, ipse dixit and fancies as such power would be against the democratic principles of the majority rule. Even such power can be misused resulting in the dissolution of multiple Assemblies on unethical, irrelevant grounds.

The judgement did not give a proper remedy to the petitioners as the restoration of the Legislative Assembly was declined. The second election succeeded in forming a stable Government in Bihar under the Interim Order of 7th October 2005. But the restoration of the previous Assembly could have been possible if the Court had stopped the second election.

Eventually, this judgement can be said to be a favourable check on the arbitrary exercise of the power of dissolution of Legislative Assemblies. The judgement was given on 24th January 2006 was mostly kind of an academic advisory opinion of what should be and should not be done in the future.

However, every judgement of the Supreme Court is entitled to be respected and needs to be given full effect as long as it is not modified or overruled by the Apex Court itself.