With reports of Uttarakhand assembly Speaker Govind Kunjwal disqualifying nine rebel Congress MLAs emerged on Saturday night, President Pranab Mukherjee dismissed the Congress government headed by Harish Rawat and placed the assembly under suspended animation on the recommendation of the Union Cabinet.
The imposition of President’s rule in the state has brought the focus back on Article 356 of the Constitution – used and misused for decades by successive governments irrespective of their political ideology.
HT explains the legal position on the controversial provision of the Constitution.
According to Article 356, President’s rule can be imposed in a state if a situation has arisen in which the government of the state cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
Breakdown of constitutional machinery
The expression “breakdown of constitutional machinery” has not been defined in the Constitution. It can happen due to political reasons such as hung assembly, the government losing majority in the assembly, failure of any political grouping to form a government, defections and break-up of coalition or because of insurgency etc. Whatever may be the reason, the President has to be satisfied about of breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state.
Governor’s report or otherwise
Generally, the governor sends a report in this regard to the Centre and it’s his/her report that forms the basis for the Union Cabinet’s recommendation to the President for invoking Article 356 to impose President’s rule.
However, the provision also says that the President can take such a decision even “otherwise” (i.e. even in the absence of governor’s report). But in any case, the President has to be satisfied that the constitutional machinery has broken down in the state.
While sending a report to the Centre, the governor is not supposed to go by the advice of the state cabinet and is exercises his or her own discretion. On the contrary, the President has to go by the advice of the Union Cabinet. But he can seek clarifications from the council of ministers.
Implications of President’s rule
Once President’s rule is imposed, the assembly ceases to function and the state comes under the Central government’s direct control. The assembly is generally kept in suspended animation. The powers of the state assembly become exercisable by or under the authority of Parliament. The executive power shifts from the council of ministers to the governor.
Once imposed, President’s rule must be approved by Parliament within a period of two months. It can’t last for more than six months unless its extension is approved by Parliament.
SR Bommai case
In the SR Bommai case, the Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that courts can’t question the Union Cabinet’s advice to the President but they can question the material behind the satisfaction of the President regarding breakdown of constitutional machinery. It also said that the use of Article 356 was justified only when there was a breakdown of constitutional machinery and not that of administrative machinery.
Bihar assembly dissolution case
The Supreme Court in January 2006 declared the dissolution of the Bihar assembly as null and void in the Buta Singh case. It held that the governor’s report could not be taken at face value and must be verified by the council of ministers before being used as the basis for imposing President’s rule. The “drastic and extreme action under Article 356” cannot be justified on whims and fancies of the governor and the council of ministers should not accept it as “gospel truth”.