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3.2 Rameshwar Prasad & Ors Versus Union of India & Anr

Part II of the minority judgment by Justice Arijit Pasayat: Sarkaria Committee on the role of Governors

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3.2 Rameshwar Prasad & Ors Versus Union of India & Anr

3.2 Rameshwar Prasad & Ors Versus Union of India & Anr 
Part II of the minority judgment by Justice Arijit Pasayat: Sarkaria Committee on the role of Governors

It is relevant to take note of what the Sarkaria Committee had said about the role of Governors:


4.1.01 The role of the Governor has emerged as one of the key issues in Union State relations. The Indian political scene was dominated by a single party for a number of years after Independence. Problems which arose in the working of Union-State relations were mostly matters for adjustment in the intra-party forum and the Governor had very little occasion for using his discretionary powers. The institution of Governor remained largely latent. Events in Kerala in 1959 when President’s rule was imposed, brought into some prominence the role of the Governor, but thereafter it did not attract much attention for some years. A major change occurred after the Fourth General Elections in 1967. In a number of States, the party in power was different from that in the Union. The subsequent decades saw the fragmentation of political parties and emergence of new regional parties frequent, sometimes unpredictable realignments of political parties and groups took place for the purpose of forming governments. These developments gave rise to chronic instability in several State Governments. As a consequence, the Governors were called upon to exercise their discretionary powers more frequently. The manner in which they exercised these functions has had a direct impact on Union-State relations. Points of friction between the Union and the States began to multiply.

4.1.02 The role of the Governor has come in for attack on the ground that some Governors have failed to display the qualities of impartiality and sagacity expected of them. It has been alleged that the Governors have not acted with necessary objectivity either in the manner of exercise of their discretion or in their role as a vital link between the Union and the States. Many have traced this mainly to the fact that the Governor is appointed by, and holds office during the pleasure of, the President, (in effect, the Union Council of Ministers). The part played by some Governors, particularly in recommending President’s rule and in reserving States Bills for the consideration of the President, has evoked strong resentment. Frequent removals and transfers of Governors before the end of their tenure has lowered the prestige of this office. Criticism has also been levelled that the Union Government utilizes the Governor’s for its own political ends. Many Governors, looking forward to further office under the Union or active role in politics after their tenure, came to regard themselves as agents of the Union. (Underlined for emphasis)

2. Historical background:

4.2.01 The Government of India Act, 1858 transferred the responsibility for administration of India from the East India Company to the British Crown. The Governor then became an agent of the Crown, functioning under the general supervision of the Governor-General. The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (1919) ushered in responsible Government, albeit in a rudimentary form. However, the Governor continued to be the pivot of the Provincial administration.

4.2.01 The Government of India Act, 1935 introduced provincial autonomy. The Governor was now required to act on the advice of Ministers responsible to the Legislature. Even so, it placed certain special responsibilities on the Governor, such as prevention of grave menace to the peace or tranquility of the Province, safeguarding the legitimate interests of minorities and so on. The Governor could also act in his discretion in specified matters. He functioned under the general superintendence and control of the Governor General, whenever he acted in his individual judgment or discretion.

4.2.03 In 1937 when the Government of India Act, 1935 came into force, the Congress party commanded a majority in six provincial legislatures. They foresaw certain difficulties in functioning under the new system which expected Ministers to accept, without demur, the censure implied, if the Governor exercised his individual judgment for the discharge of his special responsibilities. The Congress Party agreed to assume office in these Provinces only after it received an assurance from the Viceroy that the Governors would not provoke a conflict with the elected Government.

4.2.04 Independence inevitably brought about a change in the role of the Governor. Until the Constitution came into force, the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935 as adapted by the India (Provisional Constitution) Order, 1947 were applicable. This Order omitted the expressions ‘in his discretion’, ‘acting in his discretion’ and ‘exercising his individual judgment’, wherever they occurred in the Act. Whereas, earlier, certain functions were to be exercised by the Governor either in his discretion or in his individual judgment, the Adaptation Order made it incumbent on the Governor to exercise these as well as all other functions only on the advice of his Council of Ministers.

4.2.05 The framers of the Constitution accepted, in principle, the Parliamentary or Cabinet system of Government of the British model both for the Union and the States. While the pattern of the two levels of government with demarcated powers remained broadly similar to the pre-independence arrangements, their roles and inter-relationships were given a major reorientation.

4.2.06 The Constituent Assembly discussed at length the various provisions relating to the Governor. Two important issues were considered. The first issue was whether there should be an elected Governor. It was recognized that the co-existence of an elected Governor and a Chief Minister responsible to the Legislature might lead to friction and consequent weakness in administration. The concept of an elected Governor was therefore given up in favour of a nominated Governor. Explaining in the Constituent Assembly why a Governor should be nominated by the President and not elected Jawaharlal Nehru observed that "an elected Governor would to some extent encourage that separatist provincial tendency more than otherwise. There will be far fewer common links with the Centre."

4.2.07 The second issue related to the extent of discretionary powers to be allowed to the Governor. Following the decision to have a nominated Governor, references in the various Articles of the Draft Constitution relating to the exercise of specified functioned by the Governor ‘in his discretion’ were deleted. The only explicit provisions retained were those relating to Tribal Areas in Assam where the administration was made a Central responsibility. The Governor as agent of the Central Government during the transitional period could act independently of his Council of Ministers. Nonetheless, no change was made in Draft Article 143, which referred to the discretionary powers of the Governor. This provision in Draft Article 143 (now Article 163) generated considerable discussion. Replying to it, Dr. Ambedkar maintained that vesting the Governor with certain discretionary powers was not contrary to responsible Government.

4.2.09 The Constitution contains certain provisions expressly providing for the Governor to Act:-

(A) in his discretion; or

(B) in his individual 325 judgment; or

(C) independently of the State Council of Ministers; vis.

(a) (i) Governors of all the States-Reservation for the consideration of the President of any Bill which, in the opinion of the Governor would, if it became law, so derogate from the powers of the High Court as to endanger the position which that Court is by the Constitution designed to fill (Second Proviso to Article 200).

(ii) The Governors of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura have been entrusted with some specific functions to be exercised by them in their discretion (vide Articles 371A, 371F and 371H and paragraph 9 of the Sixth Schedule). These have been dealt with in detail in Section 14 of this Chapter

(b) The Governors of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland have been entrusted with a special responsibility with respect to law and order in their respective States. In the discharge of this responsibility, they are required to exercise their "individual judgment" after consulting their Council of Ministers. This aspect also has been discussed in Section 14 of this Chapter.

(c) Governors as Administrator of Union Territory—Any Governor, on being appointed by the President as the administrator of an adjoining Union Territory, has to exercise his functions as administrator, independently of the State Council of Ministers ( Article 239(2). In fact, as administrator of the Union Territory, the Governor is in the position of an agent of the President.

4.4.01 The three important facets of the Governor’s role arising out of the Constitutional provisions, are:-

(a) as the constitutional head of the State operating normally under a system of Parliamentary democracy;

(b) as a vital link between the Union Government and the State Government; and

(C) As an agent of the Union Government in a few specific areas during normal times (e.g. Article 239 (2) and in a number of areas during abnormal situations (e.g. article 356 (1))

4.4.02 There is little controversy about © above. But the manner in which he has performed the dull role, as envisaged in (a) and (b) above, has attracted much criticism. The burden of the complaints against the behaviour of Governors, in general, is that they are unable to shed their political inclinations, predilections and prejudices while dealing with different political parties within the State. As a result, sometimes the decisions they take in their discretion appear as partisan and intended to promote the interests of the ruling party in the Union Government, particularly if the Governor was earlier in active politics or intends to enter politics at the end of his term. Such a behaviour, it is said, tends to impair the system of Parliamentary democracy, detracts from the autonomy of the States, and generates strain in Union State relations.

In the Report of the "National Commission To Review The Working Of The Constitution" the role of the Governor has been dealt with in the following words:

"The powers of the President in the matter of selection and appointment of Governors should not be diluted. However, the Governor of a State should be appointed by the President only after consultation with the Chief Minister of that State. Normally the five year term should be adhered to and removal or transfer should be by following a similar procedure as for appointment i.e. after consultation with the Chief Minister of the concerned State.

(Para 8.14.2)

In the matter of selection of a Governor, the following matters mentioned in para 4.16.01 of Volume I of the Sarkaria Commission Report should be kept in mind:-

(i) He should be eminent in some walk of life.

(ii) He should be a person outside the State.

(iii) He should be a detached figure and not too intimately connected with the local politics of the State; and

(iv) He should be a person who has not taken too great a part in politics generally, and particularly in the recent past. 

In selecting a Governor in accordance with the above criteria, persons, belonging to the minority groups continue to be given a chance as hitherto. (para 8.14.3)

There should be a time-limit-say a period of six months within which the Governor should take a decision whether to grant assent or to reserve a Bill for consideration of the President. If the Bill is reserved for consideration of the President, there should be a time-limit, say of three months, within which the President should take a decision whether to accord his assent or to direct the Governor Governor to return it to the State Legislature or to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the Act under Article 143. (Para 8.14.4.)

8.14.6 Suitable amendment should be made in the Constitution so that the assent given by the President should avail for all purposes of relevant articles of the Constitution. However, it is desirable that when a Bill is sent for the President's assent, it would be appropriate to draw the attention of the President to all the articles of the Constitution, which refer to the need for the assent of the President to avoid any doubts in court proceedings.

8.14.7 A suitable article should be inserted in the Constitution to the effect that an assent given by the President to an Act shall not be permitted to be argued as to whether it was given for one purpose or another. When the President gives his assent to the Bill, it shall be deemed to have been given for all purposes of the Constitution.

8.14.8 The following proviso may be added to Article 111 of the Constitution:

"Provided that when the President declares that he assents to the Bill, the assent shall be deemed to be a general assent for all purposes of the Constitution."

Suitable amendment may also be made in Article 200.

Article 356 should not be deleted. But it must be used sparingly and only as a remedy of the last resort and after exhausting action under other articles like 256, 257 and 355. (Paras 8.18 and 8.19.2)

8.16-Use-Misuse of Article 356

"Since the coming into force of the Constitution on 26th January, 1950, Article 356 and analogous provisions have been invoked 111 times. According to a Lok Sabha Secretariat study, on 13 occasions the analogous provision namely Section 51 of the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963 was applied to Union Territories of which only Pondicherry had a legislative assembly until the occasion when it was last applied. In the remaining 98 instances the Article was applied 10 times technically due to the mechanics of the Constitution in circumstances like reorganisation of the States, delay in completion of the process of elections, for revision of proclamation and there being no party with clear majority at the end of an election. In the remaining 88 instances a close scrutiny of records would show that in as many as 54 cases there were apparent circumstances to warrant invocation of Article 356. These were instances of large scale defections leading to reduction of the ruling party into minority, withdrawal of support of coalition partners, voluntary resignation by the government in view of widespread agitations, large scale militancy, judicial disqualification of some members of the ruling party causing loss of majority in the House and there being no alternate party capable of forming a Government. About 13 cases of possible misuse are such in which defections and dissensions could have been alleged to be result of political manoeuvre or cases in which floor tests could have finally proved loss of support but were not resorted to. In 18 cases common perception is that of clear misuse. These involved the dismissal of 9 State Governments in April 1977 and an equal number in February 1980. This analysis shows that number of cases of imposition of President’s Rule out of 111, which could be considered as a mis-use for dealing with political problems or considerations irrelevant for the purposes in that Article such as maladministration in the State are a little over 20. Clearly in many cases including those arising out of States Re-organisation it would appear that the President’s Rule was inevitable. However, in view of the fact that Article 356 represents a giant instrument of constitutional control of one tier of the constitutional structure over the other raises strong misapprehensions.

8.17-Sarkaria Commission- Chapter 6 of the Sarkaria Commission Report deals with emergency provisions, namely, Articles 352 to 360. The Sarkaria Commission has made 12 recommendations; 11 of which are related to Article 356 while 1 is related to Article 355 of the Constitution. Sarkaria Commission also made specific recommendations for amendment of the Constitution with a view to protecting the States from what could be perceived as a politically driven interference in self-governance of States. The underlined theme of the recommendations is to promote a constitutional structure and culture that promotes co-operative and sustained growth of federal institutions set down by the Constitution.

8.19. Need for conventions-

8.19.5-In case of political breakdown, the Commission recommends that before issuing a proclamation under Article 356 the concerned State should be given an opportunity to explain its position and redress the situation, unless the situation is such, that following the above course would not be in the interest of security of State, or defence of the country, or for other reasons necessitating urgent action.

8.20. Situation of Political breakdown

8.20.3 The Commission recommends that the question whether the Ministry in a State has lost the confidence of the Legislative Assembly or not, should be decided only on the floor of the Assembly and nowhere else. If necessary, the Union Government should take the required steps, to enable the Legislative Assembly to meet and freely transact its business. The Governor should not be allowed to dismiss the Ministry, so long as it enjoys the confidence of the House. It is only where a Chief Minister refuses to resign, after his Ministry is defeated on a motion of no-confidence, that the Governor can dismiss the State Government. In a situation of political breakdown, the Governor should explore all possibilities of having a Government enjoying majority support in the Assembly. If it is not possible for such a Government to be installed and if fresh elections can be held without avoidable delay, he should ask the outgoing Ministry, (if there is one), to continue as a caretaker government, provided the Ministry was defeated solely on a issue, unconnected with any allegations of maladministration or corruption and is agreeable to continue. The Governor should then dissolve the Legislative Assembly, leaving the resolution of the constitutional crisis to the electorate.

8.20.4The problem of political breakdown would stand largely resolved if the recommendations made in para 4.20.7 in Chapter 4 in regard to the election of the leader of the House (Chief Minister) and the removal of the Government only by a constructive vote of no-confidence are accepted and implemented.

8.20.5 Normally President’s Rule in a State should be proclaimed on the basis of Governor’s Report under article 356(1). The Governor’s report should be a "speaking document", containing a precise and clear statement of all material facts and grounds, on the basis of which the President may satisfy himself, as to the existence or otherwise of the situation contemplated in Article 356.

8.21. Constitutional Amendments

8.21.1- Article 356 has been amended 10 times principally by way of amendment of clause 356(4) and by substitution/omission of proviso to Article 356(5). These were basically procedural changes. Article 356, as amended by Constitution (44th Amendment) provides that a resolution with respect to the continuance in force of a proclamation for any period beyond one year from the date of issue of such proclamation shall not be passed by either House of Parliament unless two conditions are satisfied, viz:-

(i) that a proclamation of Emergency is in operation in the whole of India or as the case may be, in the whole or any part of the State; and

(ii) that the Election Commission certifies that the continuance in force of the proclamation during the extended period is necessary on account of difficulties in holding general elections to the Legislative Assembly of the State concerned.

8.21.2  The fulfillment of these two conditions together are a requirement precedent to the continuation of the proclamation. It could give rise to occasions for amendment of the Constitution from time to time merely for the purpose of this clause as happened in case of Punjab. Circumstances may arise where even without the proclamation of Emergency under Article 352, it may be difficult to hold general elections to the State Assembly. In such a situation continuation of President’s Rule may become necessary. It may, therefore, be more practicable to delink the two conditions allowing for operation of each condition in its own specific circumstances for continuation of the President’s Rule. This would allow for flexibility and save the Constitution from the need to amend it from time to time.

8.21.3 The Commission recommends that in clause (5) of Article 356 of the Constitution, in sub-clause (a) the word "and" occurring at the end should be substituted by "or" so that even without the State being under a proclamation of Emergency, President’s rule may be continued if elections cannot be held.

8.21.4 Whenever a proclamation under Article 356 has been issued and approved by the Parliament it may become necessary to review the continuance in force of the proclamation and to restore the democratic processes earlier than the expiry of the stipulated period. The Commission are of the view that this could be secured by incorporating safeguards corresponding, in principal, to clauses (7) and (8) of Article 352. The Commission, therefore, recommends that clauses (6) and (7) under Article 356 may be added on the following lines: "(6) Notwithstanding anything contained in the foregoing clauses, the President shall revoke a proclamation issued under clause (1) or a proclamation varying such proclamation if the House of the People passes a resolution disapproving, or, as the case may be, disapproving the continuance in force of, such proclamation. (7) Where a notice in writing signed by not less than one-tenth of the total number of members of the House of the People has been given, of their intention to move a resolution for disapproving, or, as the case may be, for disapproving the continuance in force of, a proclamation issued under clause

(1) or a proclamation varying such proclamation:

(a) to the Speaker, if the House is in session; or

(b) to the President, if the House is not in session, a special sitting of the House shall be held within fourteen days from the date on which such notice is received by the Speaker, or, as the case may be, by the President, for the purpose of considering such resolution."

8.22- Dissolution of Assembly

8.22.1- When it is decided to issue a proclamation under Article 356(1), a matter for consideration that arises is whether the Legislative Assembly should also be dissolved or not. Article 356 does not explicitly provide for dissolution of the Assembly. One opinion is that if till expiry of two months from the Presidential Proclamation and on the approval received from both Houses of Parliament the Legislative Assembly is not dissolved, it would give rise to operational disharmony. Since the executive power of the Union or State is coextensive with their legislative powers respectively, bicameral operations of the legislative and executive powers, both of the State Legislature and Parliament in List II of VII Schedule, is an anathema to the democratic principle and the constitutional scheme. However, the majority opinion in the Bommai judgment holds that the rationale of clause (3) that every proclamation issued under Article 356 shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament and shall cease to operate at the expiry of two months unless before the expiration of that period it has been approved by resolutions passed by both Houses of Parliament, is to provide a salutary check on the executive power entrenching parliamentary supremacy over the executive.

8.22.2 The Commission having considered these two opinions in the background of repeated criticism of arbitrary use of Article 356 by the executive, is of the view that the check provided under clause 3 of Article 356 would be ineffective by an irreversible decision before Parliament has had an opportunity to consider it. The power of dissolution has been inferred by reading sub-clause (a) of clause I of Article 356 along with Article 174 which empowers the Governor to dissolve Legislative Assembly. Having regard to the overall constitutional scheme it would be necessary to secure the exercise of consideration of the proclamation by the Parliament before the Assembly is dissolved.

8.22.3 The Commission, therefore, recommends that Article 356 should be amended to ensure that the State Legislative Assembly should not be dissolved either by the Governor or the President before the Proclamation issued under Article 356(1) has been laid before Parliament and it as had an opportunity to consider it.

1.1: Majority Judgment: Chief Justice of India, Y.K. Sabharwal, Justice B.N. Agrawal and Justice Ashok Bhan

2.1: Dissenting Judgment: Justice K.G. Balakrishnan


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