Article 356 allows the Centre to dismiss an elected state government and impose “President’s Rule”. Its rampant misuse by almost all central governments has been largely curbed after the Supreme Court’s landmark Bommai judgment of 1994.
ARTICLE 356 OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION
- The Article contains provisions for the imposition of “President’s Rule” in a state, removing an elected government.
- The Constitution intended Article 356 to be used only under extraordinary circumstances, central governments, repeatedly used the provision to settle political scores.
WHAT DOES ARTICLE 356 SAY?
- Article 356 empowers the President to withdraw to the Union the executive and legislative powers of any state “if he 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”.
- Whether the constitutional machinery has broken down may be determined by the President at any time, either upon receipt of a report from the Governor, or suo motu.
- According to the provisions of Article 356, President’s Rule in a state can be imposed for six months at a time for a maximum duration of three years.
- Every six months, Parliamentary approval to impose President’s Rule will be required again.
- However, in the past, President’s Rule has been extended for significantly longer periods under specific circumstances.
- For instance, Punjab was under President’s Rule from 1987-1992 due to the growing militancy.
THE ORIGINS OF ARTICLE 356
- Article 356 was inspired by Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935.
- This provided that if a Governor of a province was satisfied that a situation had arisen in which the government of the province cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the said Act, he could assume to himself all or any of the powers of the government and discharge those functions in his discretion.
- The Governor, however, could not encroach upon the powers of the high court.
- For the British, this provision allowed for a ‘controlled democracy’ – while providing some autonomy to provincial governments, Section 93 allowed the British authorities to exercise ultimate power when they deemed necessary.
AS A POLITICAL WEAPON IN INDEPENDENT INDIA
- Article 356 was used against governments of the Left and regional parties in the states.
- Until 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru’s government had used the article six times, including dislodging the first-ever elected communist government in the world, in Kerala in 1959. In the 1960s, it was used 11 times. Article 356 was used seven times between 1967 and 1969 alone.
- The 1970s were more politically turbulent. Between 1970 and 1974, President’s Rule was imposed 19 times. Post Emergency, Government used it in 1977 to summarily dismiss nine opposite party ruled state governments. In 1980, the government too imposed President’s Rule in nine states.
- In 1992-93, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao dismissed three governments in the wake of the demolition of Babri Masjid.
The political misuse of Article 356 curbed
- In 1989, the Centre dismissed the S R Bommai government in Karnataka. In its judgment in the landmark S. R. Bommai v. Union of India case, the Supreme Court discussed the provisions of Article 356 at length.
- A nine-judge Bench in its decision in 1994 noted the specific instances when President’s Rule can be imposed and when it cannot.
- The court held that Article 356 can be invoked in situations of the physical breakdown of the government or when there is a ‘hung assembly’, but that it cannot be used without giving the state government a chance to either prove its majority in the House or without instances of a violent breakdown of the constitutional machinery.
SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB