One of the most noteworthy and widely used instruments of Central power over the States is the provision for President’s rule under article 356.
Under article 356, President’s rule can be imposed in a state ‘if the President, on receipt of a report from the Governor of a 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 the constitution’.
This was meant as a ‘safety valve’ in the political system to prevent an authority vacuum in case of a breakdown of constitutional machinery in a particular state.
The ambiguity of the expression if ‘a situation has arisen in which the government of state cannot be carried in accordance with the provisions of the constitution’ had led to the article’s misuse by all governments at the centre. This is evident from the fact that President’s rule so far has been imposed about more than 125 times in the states. Unfortunately, as expected by B R Ambedkar, this article neither remained a dead letter nor it was sparingly used.
This trend had a sharp increase after 1967 onwards when monopoly of congress rule in centre and states was broken. In 1977, after a landslide victory in Lok Sabha election, Janta Party imposed President’s rule in 9 congress ruled states, asking them to get fresh mandate. A similar situation arrived in 1980 when President’s rule was imposed in 9 Janta Party rules states by Congress (I) after 1980 general election.
Origin of article: The article was in line of GOI 1935 Act under which the Governor could take over the entire government with the concurrence of Governor General in his discretion, when he was satisfied that government of province could not be carried on in accordance with the provisions of Act. The Governor General was also armed with similar powers under section 45 of GOI 1935 Act, in case of breakdown of constitutional machinery at the centre. Thus article 356 appears to be a combination of sections 45 and 93 of GOI 1935 Act.
Misuse: The provision dealing with the failure of constitutional machinery in the States was not only used too frequently but also many a times it was used on the grounds which cannot be justified. It has been misused for dismissing State ministries having confidence of house on the grounds which were partisan, most unconvincing and unjustified.
Recommendations of Sarkaria Commission:
• Article 356 should be used in extreme cases as a measure of last resort, when all available alternatives fail to prevent or rectify the breakdown of constitutional machinery.
• A warning should be issued to errant state that it is not carrying State Govt. in accordance with the constitution.
• When an ‘external aggression’ or ‘internal disturbance’ paralyses the state administration, all alternative courses available under Article 355 should be exhausted before using Article 356.
• In a situation of political breakdown, the Governor should explore all possibilities of having a govt. If in case it is not possible to install such a govt then fresh elections can be held without delay. Governor should ask outgoing ministry to continue as caretaker govt, provided the Ministry was defeated on a major policy issue, unconnected with allegations of maladministration or corruption.
• The state legislative assembly should not be dissolved before the proclamation issued under Article 356(1) has been laid before Parliament and it has had an opportunity to consider it.
• The Governor’s report on the basis of which a proclamation under Article 356 is issued should be given wide publicity in media.
Article 356 should not be deleted but it must be used sparingly as a remedy of the last resort and after exhausting action under other articles like 256, 257 and 355.
S R Bomrai vs Union of India case: In this case 9-judge constitutional bench of SC observed that-
1. President’s rule under article 356 is subject to judicial review.
2. The powers of President under article 356 are ‘conditioned and not absolute’. President has to specify under which clause of article 356(1) he was exercising his power.
3. It is open for the Court to call for the material and the basis on which the advice of the Central Council of Ministers was tendered for issuance of emergency.
4. It was not open to President to dissolve a State Assembly after issuing a proclamation dismissing the govt till the proclamation was duly ratified by Parliament.
SC precisely proceeded to check the abuse of article 356. Though in the said decision no effective relief could be given to state govt and the legislative assemblies which are wrongly dissolved yet the Court put the Central Govt in notice that in case of wrong dismissal, it will not hesitate to restore the government/assembly.
As a result use of article 356 has come down drastically. Indeed in 1999, President called upon to reconsider recommendation of central government to dismiss Bihar government, later central government withdrew its proposal.
Some appreciation please!