"Although federal, India has strong unitary features to help us cope and fight
unanimously with emergencies."- Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
, while calling Indian Federal System as 'Unique'.
One single institution or organ or political wing cannot claim primacy over
others in India's constitutional structure. The federation's power is
distributed among many agencies and entities and gives ample autonomy to its
constituent units. The union government has been granted some level of
authority, but it must be used for the desired purpose rather than for arbitrary
reasons. Article 356 of the Indian Constitution covers constitutional breakdown
within a state and the imposition of emergency.
It is also termed as President's
Rule in a State. Article 356 has been a source of dispute and discussion since
its establishment since the President's authority has the potential to
jeopardize the nation's federal framework. The origins of Article 356 may be
traced back to Section 93 of the Government of India Act, which permitted for
the governor to declare an emergency if the province could not be managed in
line with the act's requirements.
By replacing the word "Governor" with
"President," this clause was adopted into the Indian Constitution. The term
'constitutional breakdown' is mentioned, but not defined in the article. In the
event that a state's constitutional machinery fails, Article 356 establishes a
state of emergency.
It has been a matter of controversies as well because of the
impact it has on Centre-State relationships as imposition of such emergency
leads to Unitary overpower. S.R. Bommai Case
has been a significant judgment in
determining the facets of Article 356 while various other judicial as well as
political events have helped in interpreting Article 356 for us.
Nature And Scope Of Article 356
Article 356 (1) says that 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 he
provisions of this Constitution.
Article 356 can be imposed:
'On receipt of a report from governor or otherwise', and
'A situation has arisen in which the Government of the State cannot be carried
on in accordance with the constitution.'
Here, the word 'otherwise' has been a word of contention for jurists and legal
scholars. 'Is satisfied' does not mean his personal satisfaction but the
satisfaction of the council of ministers (S.R. Bommai v. UOI
AIR 1994 SC 1918 ).
This has to be read with Article 163(1) which categorically says that there
shall be a council of ministers with Chief Minister at the head to aid and
advise the Governor, except in so far as he is by or under this Constitution
required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion.
The words 'or otherwise' show that the President can act on information received
from sources other than the Governor's report under Article 356(1). According to
Article 74(1) of the Constitution, the President is aided and advised by a
council of ministers led by the Prime Minister. Whether or not a report has been
received by President, the action shall be on aid and advice of Council of
Ministers (State of Rajasthan v. UOI
, AIR 1977).
'Failure of Constitutional Machinery' has not been defined anywhere and on
circumstances of each case has turned a new shape. But, the subject matter of
President's rule is under the ambit of judicial review. It cannot be imposed on
whims, malice or Ipse Dixit.
The Supreme Court found in Rameshwar Prasav. UOI
(2006)2 SCC 1, that the President's dissolution of the Bihar Legislative
Assembly in 2005, based on Governor Buta Singh's report, which advocated
dissolution based on extraneous grounds, was unconstitutional. The governor
predicted a rush of defections and disqualifications because the assembly
election resulted in a splintered mandate. The SC ruled that the Speaker has the
authority to decide whether or not members should be disqualified for violating
the Anti-Defection Act.
Consequences Of Proclamation
The President may be Proclamation:
- 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
- Declare that the powers of the Legislature of the State shall be
exercisable by or under the authority of Parliament;
- Make such incidental and consequential provisions as appear to the
president to be necessary or desirable for giving effect to the objects of
The Chief Ministers of numerous States put pressure on the Centre to form a
Commission to work on the Centre-State relations in order to get, find, or
obtain a clear picture of their position or status in a federal state as a
result of the growing dissatisfaction and suspicion of a threat to the autonomy
of the States. Mrs. Gandhi exerted enormous pressure on the Commission, which
was established in 1983 and led by Justice Ranjeet Singh Sarkaria, and published
its findings in 1988.
It is also called as the recommendation of Inter-State Council:
- Setting up a permanent inter-state council.
- Article 356 should be used sparingly.
- Institution of all-India service should be strengthened.
- Residuary power should remain with the parliament.
- Reasons should be communicated to the state when state bills are vetoed
by the President.
- Centre should have powers to deploy its armed forces, even without the
consent of states. However, it is desirable that the states should be
- Procedure of consulting the chief minister in the appointment of the
state governor should be prescribed in the constitution itself.
- Governors should be allowed to complete their term of five years.
In a situation of political failure, it is the responsibility of the Governor
to explore all possible situation where a government enjoying majority support
in the Assembly.
Safeguards corresponding, in principle, to clauses (7) and (8) of Article 352
should be incorporated in Article 356 to enable Parliament to review continuance
in force of a Proclamation.
In SR Bommai v. UOI
AIR 1994 SC 1918, the Supreme Court reversed its own
precedent in State of Rajasthan v. UOI.
The Court held that the
President's power to impose President's Rule is not wholly immune from judicial
review, it did limit the circumstances and manner in which such powers could be
applied. In this case, the Governor of Karnataka dismissed the Chief Minister
before giving him a chance to show his majority in a floor test, and the
President's rule was imposed as a result.
The court said:
- Aid and advice of Council of Ministers shall be taken.
- The material shall indicate that there has been a failure of
- The satisfaction of President does not mean his personal satisfaction
- Majority shall be proved on floor test thus a chance is to be given to
- President's Power is conditioned and it is not absolute.
- The use of the word 'may' indicate not only discretion but an obligation
to consider aid and advise.
The same was reiterated in a definitive emphasis on personal whims and
fancies of Governor in the case of Rameshwar Prasad.
Nabam Rebia v. Deputy Speaker of Arunachal Pradesh
(2017)13 SCC 332, is
an important case that emerged in 2016. The political unrest erupted in
Arunachal Pradesh when 20 ruling Congress MLAs joined forces with the BJP and
two independent MLAs to defy CM Nabam Tuki.
These MLAs informed the governor and governor without alerting the chief
minister of their desire to establish a government in the state, which advanced
the assembly session and caused the dismissal of the speaker of the legislative
assembly. The speaker disqualified the MLAs on ground of defection. Governor
Rajkhowa produced and delivered the President a report stating that a situation
has evolved in a state that makes it impossible for a government to carry out
its tasks in accordance with constitution.
The President dismissed congress led govt. and President's Rule was imposed
which was later challenged by Congress. The governor's action is
unconstitutional, according to the Supreme Court's Constitutional bench, because
these reasons are insufficient to conclude that the state's constitutional
machinery is failing, and because the governor's report lacks reasonableness,
the President's satisfaction is questionable.
A situation arose in Uttarakhand as well in 2016 wherein the government was
dismissed without giving opportunity for floor test to the government. Political
stability can be assured by floor test but this was missing hence it is a
setback on federal structure too. The main point here is whether the President's
decision to declare an emergency without waiting for the floor test was
The best way to answer all of the issues about political instability is to
conduct floor tests, but the Governor avoided doing so. When the President's
rule was challenged in the Uttarakhand High Court, the court ordered a floor
test and invalidated the rule.
Even though the President is a constitutional office and imposition of President
rule is not an absolute authority, the Chief Justice of the High Court believes
that the Centre is acting like a 'private party', working for its own political
objectives. As it has been declared several times that the President rule should
be used only as a last option, implementing it without a floor test should not
be permitted. (Harish Chandra Rawat v. UOI, AIR 2016).
Dr. Ambedkar was attempting to convey that Article 356 should only be invoked in
the most egregious of circumstances, not on a whim for trivial matters. The
founding fathers of the Constitution believed that because the road to democracy
is not always easy, socio-political differences across the country could lead to
difficult situations, and that the President should be given the power to
protect the state from a breakdown of law and order, as well as to maintain
peace and harmony in the state.
Although the rationale behind Article 356 can be a protective one, it is to
secure the autonomy and save the State from breaking down as India's
constitutional stability is a major component of securing sovereignty and
integrity. There has been many instances of misuse of this provision as it can
be ascertained from the above discussion. In most cases political considerations
are taken into account rather than legal ones.
The reason of Article 356 reflects unitary power over State power but that is
based on certain grounds and is not arbitrary as given in constitution. It is
more subjective in nature to determine failure and breakdown of state machinery.
According to a progressive perspective, the political government should be given
ample chance because it is elected by the people of that particular State.
There is a rich cultural and traditional backdrop of each state and every
political representative should have chance to protect its own sovereignty. For
good governance, this is a must to ensure cooperative federalism in the country.