S.R. Bommai v. Union of India case analysis- Misuse of article 356 of the Constitution of India (President’s rule)

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CASE ANALYSIS-

Case title: S.R BOMMAI v. UNION OF INDIA

Court: The Supreme Court of India

Citation: 1994 AIR 1918

Petitioner: S.R. Bommai

Respondent: Union of India

INTRODUCTION

‘S.R. Bommai v. Union of India’[1] is a landmark Supreme Court decision that discusses the Presidential Proclamation under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution. It serves as a guide for all issues arising from Centre-state relations and the misuse of Article 356. The aforementioned article states that “the Central government can take control over a State government in a situation where the State legislative machinery cannot function in accordance with the Constitutional provisions,” which “explains why matters pertaining to this Article may involve controversy.” Article 356 of the Indian Constitution is one of the most important legal provisions governing the vast majority of the complicated issues relating to the realm of Center-State relations. According to the said Article, the Central government, through the Presidential proclamation, can take control of any State government if a situation arises in which the State government machinery cannot be carried on as per the provisions of the Constitution.

BACKGROUND

S.R. Bommai was declared as Karnataka’s Chief Minister from August 13, 1988, to April 21, 1989, representing the Janata Dal. On April 21, 1989, his government was dismissed under Article 356 of the Constitution, and President’s Rule was imposed on the grounds that the incumbent government lacked a majority due to the defection of a large number of MLAs. Even on repeatedly receiving 19 letters from Bommai, the then-Governor refused to allow him the opportunity to prove his party’s majority in the Assembly. Under the stated Article, Bommai filed a lawsuit against the Governor’s decision to dismiss his government and impose President’s Rule. He first approached the High Court, which denied his writ petition; as a result, he sought relief from the Supreme Court. Indira Gandhi, on the other hand, established a commission on Centre-State relations in 1983, chaired by Justice Ranjeet Singh Sarkaria, which submitted its report in 1988.[2] The Sarkaria Commission recommended that Article 356 be used only in extreme circumstances, as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted or fail to prevent or correct a breakdown of constitutional machinery in the states, which was also the intention of the Constitution framers all along. The commission’s report was obviously not binding on the legislature, but the Supreme Court took the recommendation into account in the S.R. Bommai case.

ISSUES RAISED

  1. Is the president’s rule imposed on the six states constitutionally valid?
  2. Is the president free to proclaim Article 356(1) of the Indian Constitution?
  3. What is the scope of judicial review in this case?
  4. What does this mean “a situation has arisen in which the government of the state cannot be carried on under the provisions of this constitution” mean in Article 356 (1)?

FACTS OF THE CASE

In 1989, S.R. Bommai was the 11th Chief Minister of Karnataka, representing the Janata Dal Government. Due to a lack of majority support, his government was dissolved on April 21st, and President’s Rule was imposed under Article 356(1) of the Constitution. Bommai advised the Governor to convene the Assembly to conduct a floor test and review the party’s majority, but his suggestion was rejected, and his government was finally dismissed after Parliament’s approval under Article 356(3)[3]. Bommai filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court challenging the validity of the Presidential Proclamation, but his petition was dismissed because “under Article 356(1), the extent of judicial review is limited, and the President’s satisfaction is a valid prerequisite for a legitimate proclamation.” Unsatisfied with the High Court’s decision, Bommai filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of India, claiming that the dismissal of his government was merely a “political act” and that the imposition of the President’s rule was illegitimate because there were no legitimate reasons. Furthermore, as part of their duty under Article 74(2)[4], the Central Government did not allow him the opportunity to prove his party’s majority, nor did they reveal the facts from which the satisfaction was derived. Similar proclamations were made in states such as Meghalaya, Nagaland, and others, and all of these cases were then heard collectively by the Supreme Court in order to prevent further abuse of Article 356.

EVALUATION OF THE CURRENT CASE

The Court’s decision has proven to be the most appropriate in addressing the problem of executive power abuse. The Court correctly rejected opposing arguments that state governments are subordinate to the central government by interpreting the intentions of the Constitution framers through Constituent Assembly debates. Federalism and Secularism were described by the Court as elements of the Basic Structure. It also overruled a decision made in the State of Rajasthan[5], which stated that the President’s decision should not be subject to judicial review and should be decided solely by the Central Government. The courts recognized political parties’ proclivity to disrupt the pluralistic form of democracy and thus held that the judiciary will act as a watchdog to ensure that such powers are not abused. Even though the Court provided guidelines for imposing President’s Rule in states, it left enough room for the Union Cabinet and the President’s discretion. This case primarily concerns Article 356 of the Indian Constitution, which serves to maintain the country’s federal structure and, as a result, its use has increased over time. Since 2016, the Presidential rule has been imposed approximately 115 times in India, with the highest number of occurrences occurring during the 1991-1992 fiscal year. As can be seen, Article 356 was being used as a political tool before the passing of this judgement and the formation of the ‘Sarkaria Commission’, but its misuse has steadily decreased since then. The frightening concern was that, despite the reduced frequency, the power was largely abused, as only about 60 proclamations can be justified, while the remaining are debatable, indicating that the power was grossly abused in more than half of the cases. With this amazing discovery came a critical question: “Should this Composition be ignored or not?” Nonetheless, given the importance of this Composition in maintaining the balance of power between the Centre and the States, deleting it would be a poor choice, as it could harm the Centre-State relationship. It was the first time, in the case of “State of Rajasthan v. Union of India, AIR 1977,” that the principle and importance of judicial review regarding the President’s satisfaction to impose President’s rule was brought before the Court, despite the presence of a bar under Article 74 (2) and Article 356 (5), which states that “the Presidential Satisfaction as mentioned in Clause 1 shall be final and conclusive and cannot be challenged in any court on any ground.” However, by omitting the aforementioned clause in the 44th Amendment Act of 1978, this exclusion was removed, and following the Bommai case, it was determined that Article 356 does not enjoy transactional immunity. A similar event occurred in the case of “C.R. Das v. Union of India, AIR 1999[6],” in which the Governor issued a report mentioning the breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state, which was refused by the president, who stated that “bad governance does not amount to breakdown.” The court stated in another case, “Rameshwar Prasad v. Union of India, AIR 2005[7],” that “the emergency Proclamation cannot be imposed upon the will of the Governor, but must be made on real grounds.” However, the interim stay order was not issued, and new elections were held in the above case, indicating that the principles established in the Bommai case were not followed. However, in cases such as “Union of India v. Harish Chandra Singh Rawat, AIR 2016[8],” the court suspended the presidential rule for two hours in order to protect the democratic and federal spirit of the constitution of our nation.

IMPACT OF THE CURRENT CASE[9]

The state of Jammu and Kashmir had been under President’s Rule since June 2018, and it was lifted on October 30, 2019, so that the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 could be passed. The state was divided into two Union Territories: Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh. The Act’s passage was made possible by amending Article 367. The status of Constituent Assembly was given to the state legislature as a result of this amendment. At the time, the state was under President’s rule, so the Governor was the State Legislature’s representative. So, with the Governor’s approval, the Central Government passed the aforementioned Act, which divided the state into two Union Territories. Many legal professionals and lawyers lauded this as a misapplication of Article 356 and a legal flaw. They claimed that this completely ignored the wishes of the State Legislature while transferring all powers related to Article 370 to the Central Government. This landmark decision of S.R. Bommai case had a significant impact on center-state relations and thus has great significance in Indian politics because it restored the federal character by prohibiting the Centre from removing State governments arbitrarily for political gain. It preserved the state government’s constitutional sanctity by restricting the use of Article 356. The first impact of this verdict was felt in 1999 when the Vajpayee government was forced to re-establish the government it had dissolved. It was also clarified that the Presidential Proclamation is subject to judicial review and that policies implemented by a state government that violates the fundamental structure of the Constitution may be a valid reason for the imposition of the President’s Rule under Article 356. As can be seen, the significance and impact of the S.R. Bommai Case are extremely significant in the history of India.

RATIO DECIDENDI

Article 356 (3) requires the proclamation to be laid before both houses of parliament, according to the court that coordinated the power to dissolve the legislature. Though Article 356 does not expressly address legislative dissolution, such powers are implied in Article 356 (1)(a). The Governor has the authority to adjourn the Legislative Assembly under Article 174(2)(b).The powers of the President under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution were assumed to be constitutional rather than absolute. Article 356 bestows extraordinary powers on the President. This ability should be used sparingly, diligently, and with utmost caution. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s comments in Article 356 were cited by the court. He reasoned that emergency situations would entice the most unusual people. In addition, the court approved the Sarkaria Commission’s proposals for using Article 356. The Commission proposed that notice be given to the State before invoking Article 356 (1).

CONCLUSION

The final call in the case of S.R. Bommai strengthens India’s federal structure by granting states the necessary autonomy and prohibiting the Central Government from interfering with government operations. The decision defines the scope of judicial review. The decision was intended to limit political abuse of Article 356, but recent events show how ruling parties use these provisions for political gain. These events were indeed constantly observed following the corner decision, but the bar laboriously saved the federal system. To reduce the frequency with which the President’s Rule is imposed in states, the Article must be amended. Its main goal was to limit the abuse of Article 356 by prohibiting the arbitrary removal of state governments, and it also specified the scope of Judicial review even under the Presidential Proclamation. The fact that under our Constitution’s system, great power is debated between the Centre and the states does not imply that the states are mere appendices to the Centre. Within the fields that have been assigned to them, the States are the most powerful. The powers of the Center cannot be tamed.

  1.  (1994) 3 SCC 1

  2. Report of the Sarkaria Commission, available at http://interstatecouncil.nic.in/report-of-the-sarkaria-commission/

  3. The Constitution of India, 1950

  4. The Constitution of India, 1950

  5. State of Rajasthan v. Union of India, (1977) 3 SCC 592

  6. AIR 1999 Pat 221, 1999 (47) BLJR 1634

  7. Writ Petition (civil) 257 of 2005

  8. SLP(C) 11567/16

  9. Significance of S.R Bommai vs Union of India, https://www.iasparliament.com/article/significance-of-sr-bommai-vs-union-of-india-1

This Case Analysis has been done by Apurva Singh. She is a fourth year BBALLB(H) student at Presidency University, Bangalore.

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