In the recent past two Indian states witnessed the imposition of President’s rule, firstly, Arunachal Pradesh in January and secondly, Uttrakhand of late. However the developments in Uttarakhand were quite peculiar in nature. The move came after the Governor of the state recommended its imposition on the grounds of breakdown of constitutional machinery. The move is criticized widely by the party in power and many legal experts who believed that the grounds on which the governor recommended President Rule is frivolous as it also include 'Cow Slaughter' as, an Example of breakdown of constitutional machinery.
On December 9, a Group of rebel Congress MLAs approached Governor J P Rajkhowa, seeking to impeach Assembly Speaker Nabam Rebia. The rebel MLAs were upset with Rebia, who is a cousin of Chief Minister Nabam Tuki and seen as being in his camp, because they said he was trying to get them disqualified from the Assembly. Though the Assembly was not in session, Governor Rajkhowa agreed it was an urgent matter. Since the Assembly was originally slated to convene only on January 14, the Governor called for an emergency session of the Assembly on December 16, 2015, to take up the impeachment motion. As the Congress approached the High Court and later the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court against the Governor's convening of the special session, the Centre called for President's rule in the state under Article 356 of the Constitution. The Congress cried foul, saying this was the first instance of Article 356 being imposed while the case was being heard in court.
Legal Arguments in this case:
• Many legal experts believe that Since, Chief Minister Nabam Tuki lost majority after 21 Congress MLAs revolted against him but they cannot join hands with the BJP to form a Government owing to the anti-defection law. Therefore, Government cannot be formed in the current circumstances; therefore the governor has no other option but to recommend for President Rule.
• Further, the failure of the assembly to meet for over 6 months amounts to a violation of Article 174, which can be interpreted as a failure of the constitutional machinery
• However, other believes that President should have waited till the verdict of Supreme Court on this issue is announce. The haste shown in imposing President Rule reflects that the decision is made on Political grounds rather than on constitutional ground.
What is Article 356?
• 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.
Why this Article is Criticized?
• 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.
• Unlike the President, who mostly acts on the advice of the Union Council of Ministers, Governors have some discretion, including for sending reports recommending central rule.
• Since Governor is a central government's agent and He has discretionary power with regard to imposition of President Rule and also because, breakdown of constitutional machinery is not defined anywhere in the constitution, This has resulted in blunt misuse of this article by the party in power in the centre. The worst misuse of it could be seen from 2 instances, First being when Janta Party government came to power in 1977, It dismissed all congress ruled state government by using Article 356,since it felt that since congress government lost election at the centre, it has lost the mandate to rule at the state. Same grounds were used by the Congress government in 1980 while dismissing the Janta party government.
• Due to its widespread misuse by the executive, Supreme Court was forced to intervene in this matter, Thus in the S.R. 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. Since then the usage of this article has reduced widely, since it has inculcated fear in the minds of executive about Court nullifying the imposition of president Rule.
• The most recent example of the misuse of this article was in Buta Singh case. Where the Governor recommended president rule without giving chance to an Alliance which claimed that it has majority. 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".