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Distinguished legal minds discuss the implications of imposing Article 356 arbitrarily on state governments at the weekly India Legal show telecast on APN news channel

The misuse of Article 356 was once again in the limelight recently after the Supreme Court reinstated the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh and faulted the governor of that state for exceeding his brief by getting embroiled in the affairs of a political party and taking sides.

The subject was also aggressively broached at the Inter-State Council meeting chaired by the prime minister on July 16. Several chief ministers of non-BJP ruled states pointed out the rampant misuse of the Article while alluding to the questionable role played by governors in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. They even accused the Modi government of trying to destroy the federal character of the constitution.

Article 356 has been imposed more than 100 times by various central governments in the past to dislodge opposition-ruled states. However, the 1994 Supreme Court judgment in SR Bommai vs Union of India laid down parameters under which the President’s Rule could be imposed.

The latest India Legal show debated threadbare the relevance and misuse of Article 356 and the Supreme Court verdict on Arunachal.

Lauding the Supreme Court’s decision, Senior Advocate of Supreme Court, Pradeep Rai, said: “The order should have come earlier. The government doesn’t run on ideology, it runs on majority. The decision by the apex court is a victory for justice. The government should learn to be cautious before implementing Article 356 as it affects the image of the prime minister, the governor, the president as well as the central government.”

Vivek Narayan Sharma, Advocate-on-Record in the Supreme Court, pointed out that the President’s Rule should be imposed in Jammu and Kashmir, which is facing unrest, rather than Arunachal Pradesh. “The situation in that state is beyond control yet the BJP, which is part of the ruling coalition, has not imposed Article 356.”

For constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap, the ethical ground was more relevant. He said: “When we talk about the misuse of Article 356, it is a question of morality. Was the President really satisfied by reasons forwarded by the governor in the case of Arunachal Pradesh? Was it morally correct?”

While pointing out the role of the governor, former Judge of the Supreme Court, VS Sirpurkar, said: “I don’t think the central government should be blamed. It was the act of the governor and not the government. The basic question of law was whether the governor had the power to fix the session of the legislative assembly which, in fact, is the prerogative of the speaker. The issue has raised number of questions on the governor’s power, the constitutional ethos, the democracy and I am sure a huge debate must have gone before the judgment was arrived at.”

Former Advocate General Anoop George Chaudhari, too, appreciated the stand taken by the Supreme Court. He pointed out: “There are two aspects of Article 356. First, the government can be suspended and second the government can be dissolved. Here, the BJP simply wanted to suspend the state government.”

He, however, had a different take on the question of law mentioned by Sirpurkar. “There were many questions of law like the unconstitutional act of the governor, the power of the governor, the power of the speaker, the rights of the speaker as well as the governor. The main issue in front of the apex court was to protect the constitution; how to safeguard the country’s democratic value.”

Justice N. Santosh Hegde, former judge of the Supreme Court, said: “Democratic systems are being hijacked. Test of majority can only be done on the floor of the House and not in the office of the governor. I think the Supreme Court has reminded how a democracy should function. When extreme steps are taken, then judiciary has to intervene.”

Referring to provisions enshrined in the constitution on the role of the president, the governor and the speaker, Senior Counsel in the Supreme Court, PH Parekh said: “The president acts on the aid and advice of the central cabinet. However, the president can also exercise some powers all by himself. Likewise, the governor can also take a decision on the basis of aid and advice given by the CM and his cabinet. But, in some matters the governor can exercise a few rights given exclusively to him. The speaker is the head of the assembly. He has all the rights to conduct what will happen within the assembly. And there is a deputy speaker also.”

While expressing his views on the apex court judgment, Parekh said: “The question which came up before the court was that whether the governor can prepone the session or not. On which the court referred to the constitution and several past judgments and pronounced that it is the power of the speaker only.”

Compiled by Srishti Sonewal

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