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President's Rule On The Ground Of Failure Of Constitutional Machinery Vis-A-Vis Federalism

"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:
  1. 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;
  2. Declare that the powers of the Legislature of the State shall be exercisable by or under the authority of Parliament;
  3. Make such incidental and consequential provisions as appear to the president to be necessary or desirable for giving effect to the objects of the Proclamation.

Sarkaria Commission

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 consulted.
  • 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.

Judicial View
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:
  1. Aid and advice of Council of Ministers shall be taken.
  2. The material shall indicate that there has been a failure of constitutional machinery.
  3. The satisfaction of President does not mean his personal satisfaction
  4. Majority shall be proved on floor test thus a chance is to be given to the government.
  5. President's Power is conditioned and it is not absolute.
  6. 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 constitutional.

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).

Concluding Remark
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.

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