ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Usurping Power

The union government is ominously misusing Article 356 of the Constitution.

The dismissal of the Harish Rawat-led government in Uttarakhand is not the first instance when Article 356 of the Constitution has been abused. It was done over a hundred times until the Supreme Court, in the S R Bommai case, overruled its earlier judgment (in the State of Rajasthan and Others v Union of India (1977) case) that such decisions by the President were beyond the Court’s reach. Since then it is settled law that the basis on which the President arrived at a decision that the constitutional scheme had broken down in a state and hence warranted imposition of central rule is subject to scrutiny by the higher judiciary and is justiciable.

The Bommai judgment also clarified a few other things: that any dispute over a state government enjoying majority had to be resolved only on the floor of the assembly and that the state assemblies shall not be dissolved until both houses of Parliament endorsed such a move. It is worth recalling that the judgment, while declaring the dismissal of S R Bommai’s government in Karnataka (in 1989 after some of his party members of the legislative assembly announced withdrawal of their support to him as chief minister) as unconstitutional, also upheld the decision to place Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh under central rule in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition on 6 December 1992 as necessarily within the scope of Article 356 of the Constitution. The apex court, then, had arrived at this after scrutinising the basis on which the union cabinet had recommended imposition of President’s rule in those states.

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