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The tug of war between the States and the Centre over Article 356

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The recent order of Uttarakhand High Court to quash off President’s rule in the State has been quite shocking, where the court said “Absolute power can spoil anybody’s mind. Even the President can go wrong and in such case his decisions can be subjected to scrutiny. Indian courts have the power to scrutinise all orders,” The order was called in view that there was no reason for a President’s Rule in Uttarakhand under article 356. The imposition of President’s Rule was due to the political instability in the State. The Chief Minister had lost majority on 18th march 2016, and the State Assembly was to conduct floor test for Confidence vote.

Article 356 has been repeatedly abused to dismiss the State Governments controlled by a political party opposed to ruling party at Centre. Since Independence, there have been 124 instances of president’s rule being imposed in India. This is not the first time the court quashed the President’s Rule under article 356. The earlier landmark ruling came in the case of SR Bommai Vs Union of India in 1994. This case had huge impact on Centre-State Relations. The misuse of Article 356, to impose central authority on states, was controlled after this judgement. As per the table above, prior to this case, the number of times President’s Rule was invoked was 93 times within ~50 years. While in later 20 years, there had been 21 times usage. The misuse was drastically reduced by about 40%.

Article 356 commonly known as State Emergency or President’s Rule is invoked if there has been failure of the constitutional machinery in any state of India. The essence of the Article is that upon the breach of certain defined state of affairs, as ascertained and reported by the Governor of the State concerned (or otherwise) the President concludes that the ‘constitutional machinery’ in the State has failed. But the Governor acts on the advise of Council of Ministers who enjoy the majority in the State Assembly. Upon which, the President makes a ‘Proclamation of Emergency,’ dismissing the State Legislature and Executive.

The issue in 1994 case also had a similar situation as in today’s Uttarakhand case, the then Karnataka CM S. R. Bommai did not enjoy the majority. As per Article 74, it is not constitutionally possible, for the Governor to take the advise of the Council of Ministers (Executive Decision) who do not enjoy the majority in the State Assembly. Hence, the letter to President is invalid and the Power of President’s Rule is curtailed. On this basis, the ruling in 1994 case was that ‘President’s rule’ is under judicial review and that courts can strike it down. Infact, the court had accepted most of the recommendations given in the Sarkaria Commission, which was created in 1983 to examine the relations between Centre and the States to suggest equivalence of powers between the two.

At the end, it is to be noticed that Judiciary (third pillar) of our democracy rectifies the situation when the other two are in a conflict. Council of Ministers advising the Governor being the executive decision (Pillar 1 – Executive) and legislative action of invoking President’s rule after the proclamation is passed by both houses (Pillar 2 – Legislative). It is truly said, judiciary is the protector and the interpreter of our constitution. This is the beauty of a Democratic Nation, not letting Pluralism play by but allowing peaceful co-existence of various interests.

Reference: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/8019/

https://indiankanoon.org/doc/60799/

http://www.livemint.com/Politics/SJ3mETZ7H1cjKNlodkcM8O/How-Presidents-Rule-in-India-has-been-imposed-over-the-year.html

This article was first published on Ramya Emandi’s personal blog

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