S.R. BOMMAI v. UNION OF INDIA : CASE ANALYSIS

    The Constitution of India, is a legal document that is the bulkiest of all the constitutions around the globe. It is the most comprehensive document that governs all the government institutions. The Objective Resolution of 1946 forms the basis of the Preamble to the Constitution. In India, as its Preamble proclaims, is a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic.

    Equivalent Citation – 1994 SCC (3) 1

    INTRODUCTION

    Through its Fundamental Rights, it promises equality of status[1], liberty of thought[2], expression[3]; belief, faith and worship[4]; and opportunity.[5] The unity and integrity of the nation is most significant. In order to maintain the unity and integrity of the nation, emphasis was laid upon a strong Centre and turning India into a quasi-federal state. “The exercise of powers, legislative and executive, in the allotted fields is hedged in by the numerous restrictions, so that the powers of the States are not coordinated with the Union and are not in many respects independent.”[6] While delegating the powers and functions between the Centre and the States it was ensured that each State got to maintain their individual character. 

    When the Indian constitution was under construction, it was B.R. Ambedkar, who called Article 356 a dead-letter[7]. Instead of a dead-letter, according to some, it has become a growth-sapping death-letter. Before, S.R. Bommai filed the case, President’s Rule had already been imposed at least 82 times in various states by the centre by invoking Article 356(1). As per Article 74(1) states that the President shall act in accordance with the advice tendered by the Council of Ministers. The arbitrary imposition of the Emergency on the states is totally uncalled for.

    The Centre’s decision for imposing President’s rule in various states was primarily because it wanted to install its own government. This policy of imposing the President’s Rule for political purposes had led to a state of insecurity and instability. The Sarkaria Commission has talked of Centre-State relations in great detail by writing a separate chapter on the significance of the role of the Governor of the states. Ironically, Article 356 has been invoked by the Governors who had taken an oath with a seal in their hands to rise above party politics and work impartially and contribute to the overall growth and development of the state. Sadly, because the Governor Takes the first step towards implementing the President’s Rule, Article 356 assumes the traits of a legislation and therefore can only be struck down in a manner that is prescribed by the constitution and not otherwise. 

    Article 356: Provisions in case of failure of constitutional machinery in State

    Article 357: If the President, on receipt of report from the Governor of the State or otherwise, is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, the President may be Proclamation

    Article 357(a) assume to himself all or any of the functions of the Government of the State and all or any of the powers vested in or exercisable by the Governor or any body or authority in the State other than the Legislature of the State.

    Also, the President’s Rule had been imposed on about 13 occasions by relying on the same Article. Which makes it to a total of 95 times, as mentioned in the judgement. Proclamation under Article 356 does not have immunity against judicial scrutiny. The judiciary can not question the Governor but can surely inspect the material on which the Governor was left with no other option than to write a letter to the President of India and mention that there is a Constitutional Breakdown in the State machinery.

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    FACTS OF THE CASE

    In 1988, Janta Dal won elections and S.R. Bommai led the Karnataka government. S.R. Bommai held the post as the Chief Minister of Karnataka from August 1988 to April 1989, which amounts to less than a year. Soon after, his government was dismissed in the year 1989 under Article 356 of the Constitution of India. The Governor had in his office 19 letters, allegedly signed by the defecting members of Janta Dal and S.R. Bommai was presumed to have lost confidence in the House. A writ petition was filed under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution in the Karnataka High Court.

    Since the S.R. Bommai led government had lost its confidence in the House, the High Court dismissed the plea and stated that the actions of the Governor P. Venkatasubbaiah was in cognizance with the procedures established by the Constitution. Soon after, another appeal was made before the Supreme Court of India, under Article 32 of the Constitution regarding the arbitrary action of the Governor. As per the recommendations of Sarkaria Commission, the Governor P. Venkatasubbaiah should have given S.R. Bommai an opportunity to prove his majority in the assembly. Unlike the said scenario, the Governor immediately wrote a letter to the President of India under Article 356 stating that there is a breakdown in the constitutional machinery of the state. Therefore, a state of emergency was imposed in the state by dissolving the State Legislature and dissolving the House and throwing away the S.R. Bommai led the Janata Dal government in Karnataka.

    CONTENTIONS

    Whether Proclamation is admissible to the court and whether judicial review is applicable or not.

    A proclamation in such a  case is made after the Governor of the State sends a report to the President of India under Article 356(1). The court can call submissions upon the basis of which the Governor has made such decisions. The court can not question the Governor or the President of India for acting under the oath taken by them before assuming the office.

    What is the scope of judicial review in such a case?

    The judiciary can only question the material on the basis on which the Governor of the State had written such a letter and the President of India had taken the stance and got the proclamation of Emergency under Article 356 (1). Such a proclamation has to be presented in the Parliament within two months of execution. For a proclamation, the subjective satisfaction of the President is of utmost importance. The court can therefore, only extend its jurisdiction to the administrative aspect and limit itself to the material on the basis of which the President substantiates his subjective satisfaction. But, when it comes to the doctrine of upholding the constitutionality of a decision, the court is eligible to quash any decision that ultra vires with the Constitution, especially the Fundamental Rights.

    The circumstance under which the State can not function in accordance with the provisions established under the Indian Constitution defined under 356(1). 

    The Governor has a discretionary power that widens the scope of his power. The Article 356 is invoked under two major scenarios:

    1. If the Chief Minister and his Council of Ministers have lost the trust of the House.
    2. If the Chief Minister resigns from his office.

     Under such a scenario, the Governor as the nominal head of the state can either call for elections or function as the head of the state till the next government comes into power. Since a Governor is only a “head” in name, there is a constitutional precondition of a Chief Ministerial appointment for the state to function in accordance with the procedure established by the same. 

    HELD

    The floor test holds supremacy when it comes to determining the legitimacy of the government. It is one of the methods to hold the Council of Ministers accountable. Even when the state witnesses defection of certain MLAs, the floor test has to be mandatorily conducted. The Governor has to ensure that the Speaker makes certain that a floor test is executed in the House. A recourse to the floor test was previously neither compulsory or obligatory. A floor test is therefore mandatory and the Governor’s personal opinion about the matter does not hold a stand here. 

    It is not a prerequisite for the governor to send a report, if there is an indication that the Council of Ministers, headed by the Chief Minister have lost the majority support. The Governor has to give the Chief Minister enough time to prove his majority and then take cognizance of the same and send a letter to the President of India under Article 356, stating breakdown of constitutional machinery. The President of India can not exercise an absolute power, when it comes to imposing Emergency under article 356. A decision has to be made by the President based on his “subjective satisfaction”. This subjective satisfaction of the President is based on the opinion of the Council of Ministers. 

    REFERENCES

    1. The Constitution of India,art.14.
    2. The Constitution of India,art.19
    3. The Constitution of India,art.19(1)(a).
    4. Preamble to the Indian Constitution; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship
    5. The Constitution of India,art.16.
    6. State Of West Bengal vs Union Of India, 1963 AIR 1241.
    7. Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol.IX, p.177-178.

    BY RIDHA DHAWAN | PANJAB UNIVERSITY, REGIONAL CENTRE, LUDHIANA

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